FDA New Food Rules
One of the things the Affordable Care Act is supposed to provide is information. So it is with great fanfare that the FDA has released the eagerly anticipated final rules for calorie information on menus, vending machines, and movie theatre chains. That’s right, you will now have to face just how many calories that humongous soda and gargantuan popcorn really have, while you watch the latest movies. The question is, “Do you want to know or will you even pay attention?”
The new guidelines require calorie posting for foods, beverages, and some alcoholic drinks served at restaurants, supermarkets (grocery stores), in vending machines, pizza outlets, amusement parks and any movie theatre with twenty or more “outlets.” The anticipated rollout is within the next year. What’s not included under these guidelines are foods that feed more than one individual or that require additional preparation time before serving (certain selections from the deli counter). And if a consumer wants additional information, similar to the breakdown labels on prepared foods, then calories per serving, total calories, calories from fat, amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, sugars, fiber, cholesterol and total carbohydrates, have to be made available.
Specifically what items will include the new nutrition information?
- Meals from sit-down restaurants
- Foods purchased at drive-through windows
- Take-out food, such as pizza
- Foods, such as made-to-order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
- Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
- Muffins at a bakery or coffee shop
- Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
- A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice cream store
- Hot dogs or frozen drinks prepared on site in a convenience or warehouse store
- Certain alcoholic beverages
Foods not covered include:
- Certain foods purchased in grocery stores or other similar retail food establishments that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require additional preparation before consuming, such as pounds of deli meats, cheeses, or large-size deli salads
Individuals or companies operating twenty or more vending machines must disclose calorie information for foods sold from the machine, with certain exemptions.
Reaction from the food industry
As expected, there was a mixture of positive and negative feedback.
The National Grocer’s Association (NGA) was prepared for guidelines that would create a uniform standard for chain restaurant labeling. It says the FDA’s decision to include grocery stores and supermarkets goes beyond the initial standards set by Congress. The NGA feels that the financial burden that will now be faced by grocery stores to implement these rules is simply too great. The NGA call it “regulatory overreach.”
The Food Marketing Institute agrees with the NGA suggesting that the menu labeling law and regulation is really meant for an entirely different industry, namely, restaurants.
The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) feels the FDA has gone way beyond congressional intent and they are looking to Congress to intercept this mandate.
Reaction from health experts
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and the author of several tombs on nutrition, is excited that there is now more of a push to give consumers more information. She sees this as “putting public health first and foremost.” On the other hand, she was not thrilled to see how the information would be disseminated. For example, vending machines are required to have a poster somewhere on the machine, rather than specific nutrition information located next to each item in the vending machine.
CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), a consumer advocacy group, represented by Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director, feels that menu labeling is a huge advance in providing consumers with nutrition information, and the biggest attempt since nutrition labeling went into effect about 20 years ago. CSPI is contemplating a lawsuit to require more than just a poster on vending machines. They want assurances that the information is presented in a clearly visible and readily available way.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is strongly in favor of the FDA’s mandate. Information, however, is not enough, it says. The AND would like to see nutrition education and policy evaluation, especially with regards to “accurate calorie counts.” Menu labeling is one thing, but finding a way to make it specifically relevant to consumers requires more than just words and numbers.
Good idea, bad idea, or “doesn’t matter?”
Americans are now consuming substantial calories away from home, as much as one third of total daily calories or more.
There have been mixed study results when it comes to assessing the impact of posted calorie counts on consumer food choices. Overall, experts feel that consumers already engaged with health will appreciate and use the information to support their food choices. People who disregard their health and have little interest in a healthy lifestyle, will continue to eat what they want to eat.
A Starbucks study by researchers at Stanford University, looked at customer habits in Boston, New York and Philadelphia from 2008-2009. Average calories from “food ordered” fell by about 14% in New York after calorie postings began to pop up. Little difference was seen in beverage ordering habits. This was considered a large study, so the researchers felt it should give some confidence to the theory that the FDA decision will yield an overall positive impact. A recent study presented at ObesityWeek2014 suggested that calorie posting seemed to impact college–age individuals’ choices, helping them to shed, on average, 8 pounds..
So what do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Might it impact the ordering habits of parents, considering the current childhood obesity trend?
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