Bill would check FDA menu labeling

New legislation in the Senate would exempt pizza delivery joints and grocery stores from upcoming federal rules requiring restaurants to post the number of calories in their food.

The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, from Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Angus King (I-Maine), would limit the ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to impose regulations that store owners say would be nearly impossible to fulfill.

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The FDA’s upcoming rules, called for by the Affordable Care Act, will require chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to disclose the amount of calories in their food. The measure was designed as a way to help consumers make healthy choices and fight obesity.

But pizza companies, grocery stores and other businesses have complained that it would be nearly impossible for them to fulfill all of the FDA’s requirements.

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 all of the options, they say. 

The Senate bill is a companion to legislation introduced in the House earlier this year. That bill was led by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), and has 50 co-sponsors.

“We are encouraged by the bipartisan, bicameral support for FDA to follow a more practical approach to menu labeling,” said Jennifer Hatcher, the senior vice president of government affairs at the Food Marketing Institute, in a statement.

“FDA’s current, proposed menu labeling rule imposes a billion-dollar burden on supermarkets, with no additional, quantifiable benefit to supermarket customers, according FDA’s analysis.”

The grocery store trade group has opposed the FDA’s efforts to disclose nutrition facts at salad bars, sandwich counters and other places in stores.

FDA chief Margaret Hamburg said earlier in the month that the regulations would be finalized “soon,” though she did not get more specific.