House passes bill to ease menu labeling rules under ObamaCare
The House passed legislation Tuesday to ease the ObamaCare rule that requires restaurants, convenience stores and supermarkets to list the calorie count of each menu item before it’s set to take effect in May.
The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), passed, 266-157, with the support of 32 Democrats.
The legislation keeps business owners from having to provide calorie counts for every possible variation of a sandwich, salad or slice of pizza. Instead, sandwich shops and pizza chains could give a calorie range, base the calorie count on how the item is commonly ordered or list the number of calories per serving.
The bill also allows restaurants to post calorie information online instead of on a menu board inside a store if the majority of orders are placed online, and it provides a 90-day window for businesses to correct any violations.
The Affordable Care Act requirements, which are set to take effect May 7 and apply to food service establishments with 20 or more locations, have been criticized by conservatives as overly burdensome for businesses.
“This bill was drafted to address the challenges of an overly prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach to regulation affecting a very, very diverse industry,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). “We need to make sure the law works for all food establishments.”
But Democrats say the legislation will allow businesses to hide calorie information online and mislead consumers by creating arbitrary serving sizes for foods meant to be eaten by one person in one sitting.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) called the bill unnecessary.
“At a time when our country is facing an obesity epidemic, I would say really a crisis, we should not be undermining efforts to educate consumers about the nutritional value of foods, including calories,” she said.
GOP lawmakers claim business owners will be subject to criminal penalties for failing to comply with the new requirements enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Food labeling that doesn’t meet the new requirements, Upton said, would be deemed misbranded and under U.S. code, the liable party could be imprisoned for up to a year, fined up to $1,000 or both.
“Under FDA’s framework merely adding that extra olive or pepperoni is going to render the calorie content on the menu misleading and the chef then becomes criminal? Come on,” Upton said.
But Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) accused GOP lawmakers of lying about the potential penalties for those who violate the new rules.
“Menu labeling will be subject to the exact same mechanisms and penalties as those for packaged foods. FDA has maintained its commitment to compliance, outreach and education, has waived enforcement for the first year and additionally, numerous state and local governments have menu labeling requirements and not one chain restaurant has faced criminal liability,” she said.
“Once again misinformation is being distributed by the majority,” she said.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has offered a companion bill in the Senate. Of the 16 co-sponsors who have signed onto that legislation, three are moderate Democrats up for reelection this year — Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Claire McCaskeill (Mo.).
But the bill needs the support of at least nine Democrats to pass the Senate, where there’s a slim Republican majority of 51-49.