Uproar over ObamaCare’s menu rules

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking the Obama administration to scale back draft regulations under ObamaCare that would force restaurants to post nutritional information on their menus.



The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is close to finalizing a rule requiring calorie labels on vending machines and at restaurants and “similar retail food establishments.” Proposed in 2011, the regulations stem from the Affordable Care Act and are designed to combat obesity by helping consumers make healthier choices.

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But the group of 24 lawmakers said the draft regulations, which apply to restaurants with 20 or more locations, go beyond Congress’ intent and would create painful new expenses for certain businesses, including delivery joints and eateries that specialize in made-to-order dishes

“Specifically, the proposed rule limits the ability of businesses to determine for themselves how best to provide nutritional information to customers,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “As a result, the proposal harms both those non-restaurants that were not intended to be captured by the menu labeling law as well as those restaurants that have flexibility and variability in the foods they offer.” 



The lawmakers pressed the FDA to limit the scope of the regulations, which they say would harm small businesses that are already complying separately with the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act.



Pizza places and grocery stores in particular have complained about the draft standards, saying they would be all but impossible to maintain. For instance, there are 34 million different combinations of pizza toppings, according to an industry trade group. It’s impractical to require that they list calorie counts for all of the options, they say.



The lawmakers, led by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), are pushing legislation that would limit the scope of the menu rule to businesses where food service is the primary source of revenue, allow delivery restaurants to post their nutritional information online and allow firms to choose between multiple approaches for labeling made-to-order items.



The bill, which also would limit penalties for labeling mistakes, has attracted more than 50 co-sponsors, and there is companion legislation in the Senate. 



“Yet, to date there is little evidence to suggest that the FDA has considered these alternatives,” the lawmakers wrote to Hamburg. “Instead, it appears that the FDA has withdrawn from interacting with affected industries and instead proceeded on a path that will unnecessarily burden many small businesses across the country.”