FDA chief says menu labeling ‘thorny’ issue
WASHINGTON — Diners will have to wait a little longer to find calorie counts on most restaurant-chain menus, in supermarkets and on vending machines.Writing a new menu labeling law “has gotten extremely thorny,” according to the head of the Food and Drug Administration, as the agency tries to figure out who should be covered by it.
The 2010 health care law charged the FDA with requiring chain restaurants and other establishments that serve food to put calorie counts on menus and in vending machines.
The agency issued a proposed rule in 2011, but the final rules have since been delayed as some non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard to be exempt. While the restaurant industry has signed on to the idea and helped to write the new regulations, supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers that sell prepared food say they want no part of it.
“There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.
Hamburg said menu labeling has turned out to be one of the FDA’s most challenging issues, and while requiring calorie counts in some establishments might make sense on paper, “in practice it really would be very hard.”
She did not say what specific types of establishments she was referring to.
The challenges of putting such a law in place, and deciding whom it should apply to, were made clear Monday when a judge struck down New York City’s ban on large sugary drinks. State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling said in his ruling that the 16-ounce limit on sodas and other high-calorie drinks arbitrarily applied to only some sweet beverages and some places that sell them.
The new limits, championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, were supposed to take effect Tuesday.