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Ever since menu labeling passed in 2010, the FDA has been struggling to write a law that brings balanced change to how consumers access nutritional information at restaurants. The FDA's progress was further halted when they missed a self-imposed February deadline to issue final rules to its Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments requirements.
The FDA posted its proposed rule in April 2011 and has since received more than 900 comments from consumers, supermarket and restaurant chains, and independent operators. The regulatory body has now extended its final deadline to the end of the year as it continues to explore and review industry and consumer comments.
At issue is the appropriate language addressing the types of retail establishments covered by the federal requirements. For example, supermarket and convenience stores are looking for regulatory exemption because the rules could cover thousands of items in each store, costing billions of dollars to put the rules in place, said Erik Lieberman in a March 2013 article. Lieberman said further that the rules could potentially move beyond prepared foods to include cut fruit, bakery items and other foods that aren't prepared and packaged, which would lead each item to be sent to labs for nutritional testing and analysis.
Convenience stores would have similar problems, said Jeff Lenard of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). NACS representatives have worked with two United States House members to introduce H.R. 1249, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2013, designed to outline a less burdensome approach to menu labeling by limiting the provision to establishments that derive 50 percent or more of revenue from food that is intended for immediate consumption or prepared and processed on-site. In March 2013, the bill was referred to the House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and has had little movement since. In November 2013, the bill also was introduced in the Senate and referred that same month to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
The Senate bill was supported by The American Pizza Community, a coalition of the nation's largest pizza companies, regional chains, small business owners, suppliers and other entities. No doubt, pizza operators have been one of the most vocal in regard to menu labeling legislation because of the segment's challenge to provide nutritional information for millions of combinations. For example, Domino's has 34 million different pizza combinations available based on variations of crusts, cheese and toppings.
The pizza segment's variables in size, range and toppings makes it more difficult for the more than 700,000 locations to conform to a one-size-fits-all approach, asserts the coalition, and "would inflict onerous burdens on these stores, threatening to limit job creation and the other positive economic impacts of the pizza industry without improving consumers' access to convenient and accurate nutritional information."
However, National Restaurant Association executives said supermarkets are exaggerating the cost of rule implementation and has lobbied for prepared foods in supermarkets and convenience stores to be added, saying they are essentially selling the same things. The NRA has been working with federal lawmakers to write fair and balanced legislation surrounding menu labeling. Additionally, they sent Pizzeria Industry Council members to Washington, D.C., last year to offer alternative solutions to the law's required nutritional labeling requirement.
PIC members on the trip, led by PIC chairwoman Marla Topliff, president of Rosati's Pizza, pointed out several potential issues, such as variability, serving sizes, take-out vs. dining-in, and changeability. The group also invited me to speak during a council board meeting, advising as to the issues surrounding the legislation and what it means for pizzeria operators.
Since then, the legislation has been at a standstill while the FDA reviews comments and determines the best way forward.
"I'd like to say that the good news is that the law has been delayed, but I'm not completely sure that the delay matters," Topliff said. "The Pizzeria Industry Council has had many discussions about what the delay means in the long term and pretty much concluded that it really means is that we just have more time to procrastinate. Although we don't know when, how or who will enforce the law, the one thing we do know for sure is that eventually it will be enforced."
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