A House version of health-care reform legislation introduced Thursday contains a menu labeling provision similar to one included in health-care legislation introduced in June by the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, proposes to require menu labeling at chain restaurants with 20 or more locations and for items sold in vending machines. Like the menu labeling provision in the Senate's bill, the House version would require that calorie information be printed on menus or posted on menu boards for all standard menu items. The restaurant must also post a brief statement describing the suggested daily caloric intake in order to put the posted calorie information in context. Restaurants would be required to have additional nutritional information available in written form, which consumers can request. Operators would post a notice informing consumers of the information's availability. Custom orders, temporary specials on the menu less than 60 days and items under market test for less than 90 days would be exempt from the calorie labeling requirement, as would items not listed on menus or menu boards, such as condiments. Self-service food and beverages would have caloric information displayed adjacent to each item. The primary difference in the two menu labeling provisions is that the House version would not preempt state or local law already in effect. A few states and several communities, including California and New York City, have passed their own menu labeling laws. The requirements would go into effect one year after law was passed. The National Restaurant Association voiced its support of the Senate's version of the provision when it was crafted this summer, as it did earlier legislation that pre-empted state and local menu-labeling laws. Operator dissent However, not all restaurant operators support the new legislation. Twenty-one limited- and full-service chains sent a letter to Congress in July requesting that their version be more inclusive. In that letter, Jonathan Blum, Yum! Brands Inc.'s senior vice president of public affairs, said that setting the mininum at 20 restaurants means that "only 25 percent of restaurants (would be required) to label menus."
Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Domino's, agrees with Blum. He sees the legislation as providing his competitors with an unfair advantage. For if menu labeling and nutritional information is helpful for the consumers of Domino's restaurants, he said, it should be helpful for the consumers of all eateries. And the way the bill is written currently seems a one-size-fits-all solution that actually doesn't fit.
"The primary reason we are opposed to the compromise bill is that it does not provide the flexibility that a chain like ours needs," McIntyre said. "The vast majority of our orders come via the telephone or through our Web site, so retro-fitting our in-store menu boards is a cost burden with little to no benefit for the consumer."
Here he clarified a point about the legislation—in fact, if your store menus are both printed and on some sort of display board, the nutrition facts need to be displayed on both, giving those without menu board less expense to retrofit. Andrew Puzder, chairman and CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., parent company of quick-service chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, said the legislation also puts an unfair burden on limited-service restaurants in general by making their menu boards more confusing. He does support requirements that allow for signage containing nutritional information to be posted near the menu board. Recent studies have failed to prove conclusively that posting nutritional information affects consumer's choices. In a study of poor neighborhoods impacted by New York's requirements, customers actually purchased items with more calories. But a more recent and broader study showed customers at several QSRs chose to order food with a lower caloric content once the information was posted.