Menu labeling: Big Apple again achieves what feds cannot

| by S.A. Whitehead
Menu labeling: Big Apple again achieves what feds cannot

As the song says, "making it" in New York has long been seen as the route to also making it "anywhere." But that rule does not apparently apply to menu labeling regulations, which start being enforced in the Big Apple on May 22 for brands with more than 15 locations. That action takes place despite the fact that the May 1 enforcement start of similar nationwide menu labeling regulations did not "make it" to activation. Instead, those sweeping federal regulations were pushed back by the Trump administration, following a flurry of lobbying activity by retailers and grocery chain interests who would have to comply with the new laws through their increasing sales of ready-to-eat offerings. 

For restaurant industry organizations like the National Restaurant Association, New York City's activation of menu labeling laws there represents the start of the very sort of "patchwork quilt" of smaller jurisdictional laws the organization had hoped to avoid with the activation of a single federal mandate this past May 1. 

"Just as we feared, city and state governments are taking advantage of the federal menu labeling delay," NRA Executive Vice President Cicely Simpson said in a statement last night. "Federal preemption on menu labeling is the law of the land. The one year delay of implementation does not negate that preemption therefore New York City's announcement is in violation of federal law." 

On Monday then, affected New York City restaurant, convenience and grocery brands must not only be well-versed in the city's new laws, but also compliant with the same, by posting detailed menu offering information on calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugar and protein. In addition, New York City's law mandates that all this information be put in perspective by also including the statement that the general nutrition guidance for adult calorie intake daily is 2,000 calories total, which might make that 1,800-calorie cup of coffee look a little less desirable.

In New York City, the regulations will be enforced by its Health and Consumer Affairs departments, which will issue only violations for the next three months. After Aug. 21, however, $200 to $600 fines will be levied, according to a press release from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

'We are all tempted to make unhealthy choices, but with these new, common-sense rules, New Yorkers will have the information to make better choices and lead healthier lives," de Blasio said in the release. "We can no longer wait for federal action, and urge other cities to follow our lead."

New York City Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio agreed, saying, "This Administration continues to be at the forefront of public health practice, and these new rules demonstrate our ongoing commitment to promoting and protecting the health of New Yorkers. These new rules give busy people quick facts they can use to make healthier choices when picking up prepared meals for themselves and their families."

The de Blasio administration updated the health code in 2015 and the rules took effect in December, but enforcement was delayed because the de Blasio administration was expecting the new federal standards to start being enforced May 1. As that did not occur, the labeling requirements will apply to New York City alone, including about 3,000 restaurants and 1,500 retail chains with 15 or more locations.

The city's action on the issue was applauded by other organizations as well, including the American Heart Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which also pushed other municipalities nationwide to activate their own laws, despite the long-held-back federal action. 

"It's been seven long years since the national menu labeling law passed," Center for Science in the Public Interest Nutrition Policy Margo G. Wootan said in a news release. "Other jurisdictions with their own state and local menu labeling policies should once again follow New York City's lead and go ahead and implement their policies, especially in grocery and convenience stores, which increasingly compete with restaurants for Americans' away-from-home food dollars and have been trying to lobby their way out of providing calorie information to their customers."

 Betsy Craig, of menu labeling information company MenuTrinfo, has been monitoring every move made nationally on this subject in jurisdictions all over the nation. She said many are already heeding Wootan's call to activate their own policies. 

"I recommend that all companies that make revenue from selling food to the public be ready with their nutritional information and keep it current through a nutritional partner," Craig said in an interview with this site. "The federal mandate may have been put to the side for 11 more months, but what New York City has done beyond the mandate is show the country is not going to sit on the sidelines quietly.  

"The patchwork of laws in the restaurant space has once again started to matter. In the last week alone we have received three calls for help from different areas of the country. Many jurisdictions who had their laws on hold waiting for the federal law to kick in took up their local efforts once again and started checking for menu labeling within their areas. It's caused a stir for the folks that were choosing the 'wait and see' approach. Now they can get use and occupancy certifications to open, or they are getting a negative on their health inspections because of not meeting the local laws once again. This is putting people in a panic."

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Health & Nutrition, Menu Boards

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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