Monday, March 22, 2010

The (New) Law of the Land: Nutrition Labeling at Chain Restaurants

H.R. 3590, more commonly known as the health care reform bill passed by the House of Representatives last night, contains a provision I'll bet most people weren't aware of. Deep in the bill, on page 1206, is Section 4205, "Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items at Chain Restaurants." This section, which bears the full force of law once the President signs off on the legislation, requires chain restaurants (those with 20 or more locations) to prominently display the nutrition information for all standard menu items. How prominently? As in the picture above, chains will have to put the calorie content of each item right next to its menu listing. The rule also applies to vending machines.

Similar laws are already on the books in some jurisdictions (New York City, the State of California, and others), but the new federal law will supersede such state and local requirements. The fact that the federal law will preempt the patchwork quilt of local and state rules is significant in part because it is the reason this law was able to pass without much opposition from the industry. Food chains agreed to swallow this bitter pill in order to avoid the costly headache of navigating compliance on a locality-by-locality basis.

This sort of thing is a good reminder that local politics and regulations can matter in a big way, if only because they are so difficult and frustrating for large multi-state and national corporations to navigate.

The celebratory press release from CSPI, here.

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