Feb 12, 2016 / Economy/Jobs | Regulations

Op-Ed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on The Hill’s Congress Blog: Menu Labeling Reg Serves Up a Mess

KEY QUOTE:  “The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 is an innovative solution that advances both consumer education and job creation, empowering your favorite deli man, pizza maker, or local convenience store to continue feeding our local economies – instead of spending unnecessary time, energy, and resources on a top-down, one-size-fits-all regulation.”

Earlier today, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act passed on the House floor with bipartisan support. The bill, introduced by  Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), “makes it easier for customers to actually see and understand [nutritional information] because it’s displayed where customers actually place orders—including by phone, online, or through mobile apps,” McMorris Rodgers said on the House floor this morning.  In an op-ed appearing online for The Hill , McMorris Rodgers explains what the bill is, what the bill is not, and why it’s important for small businesses owners across the country.

The following op-ed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Chair of the House Republican Conference, appears on The Hill’s Congress Blog.

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Menu Labeling Reg Serves Up a Mess

The Hill

February 12, 2016

You take your place in line at your favorite local deli counter and order “the usual.”

The friendly faces behind the counter know the drill by now. You’ll have turkey, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and mayonnaise, all on your favorite bread.

Every day, in towns big and small, this ritual happens at America’s deli counters, grocery stores, and convenience store check-out lines. But behind every creative sandwich, salad, or pizza combination you’ve ever concocted, there’s a local store keeper or restaurant owner who makes it their mission to offer that choice to you – their customer.

Unfortunately, in 2014 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made this day-to-day interaction between small business owners, their employees, and the diners they serve unnecessarily complicated by issuing a 400-page rule requiring restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide calorie information on all menus. Tens of thousands of these businesses are franchised locations operated by small business owners.

This mandate means that the calories of every potential sandwich, salad, or pizza topping combination, which are constantly changing, would have to be calculated and publicized daily.

For example, if a sandwich store offers more than 30 possible toppings, it would be required to detail the nutrition information for more than 30 million different sandwiches behind the deli counter.

While the rule’s intent to deliver consumers increased access to nutrition information is admirable, good intentions don’t always add up to practical application.

This particular regulation aims to centralize decision-making at the FDA with a one-size-fits-all approach to an industry that is as diverse as its ingredients.

Applying the same standard to salad bars and pizzerias as restaurants with a fixed menu is unrealistic, and it is an unproductive use of business owners’ time, energy, and financial resources.

As it stands, the FDA’s menu labeling requirement has an estimated compliance cost of nearly $1 billion — and that’s just for grocers. Coupled with the predicted 14.5 million hours of paperwork, this is one of the most expensive and onerous regulations of the entire Obama administration.

When “made-to-order” is the lifeblood of many restaurants’ existence, we should empower these local job creators to decide how best to provide nutrition information to their customers.

That’s why this week we’re voting on my legislation, the bipartisan Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 (H.R. 2017), which takes power out of Washington, D.C. and puts it back in the hands of small business owners by giving them the flexibility they need to make the best decisions for their customers and businesses.

The key word here is flexibility. We are not debating the merits of calorie counts in restaurants. We are debating if this specific, 400-page rule is workable. In its current form, it’s not.  

In many cases, digital and online ordering is consumers’ preferred method of ordering, yet the FDA insists that in-store menu boards be labeled regardless of their utility. Nearly 90 percent of orders in some restaurants are placed without ever stepping foot in the eatery, meaning few, if any, people would see the calorie labels at the time of their order.

Some argue that the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act will block consumers’ access to nutritional information, which is simply not the case. Having reliable nutritional information available is important, so it clarifies the intent of the FDA’s rule and uses technological innovations so people can make informed food decisions while at the same time giving America’s business owners needed flexibility to make it readily available.  

This legislation would give restaurants, grocers, and convenience stores the freedom to provide nutrition information in a way consistent with how they operate and how their customers actually place orders – including by phone, online, or through mobile apps. By bringing this rule into the 21st Century, customers can trust the reliable information they need will be easily accessible. 

Conversely, if something isn’t done, the FDA’s final rule threatens to irreversibly damage many of our nation’s greatest job creators, unnecessarily placing thousands of Americans and their jobs on the chopping block.

The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 is an innovative solution that advances both consumer education and job creation, empowering your favorite deli man, pizza maker, or local convenience store to continue feeding our local economies – instead of spending unnecessary time, energy, and resources on a top-down, one-size-fits-all regulation.