Restaurant menu labeling issue up for consideration

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Senator Harkin and Representative DeLauro plan to introduce the MEAL Act next week.  Supporters of the bill are hustling to bring cosponsors on to the bill so that is has a strong introduction in Congress.

The restaurant industry has its own restaurant labeling bill, the LEAN Act which some feel is designed to distract members of Congress from meaningful menu labeling and would cancel out all existing state and local menu labeling policies.  Most public health organizations oppose that industry bill. Personally, I have mixed emotions.

Having represented the restaurant industry as a lobbyist for many years, I typically oppose any measure that would handcuff our restaurateurs and create more government redtape. On the other hand, it sure would be easier to calculate my weight watchers points if I knew the particulars.  Also, there are people will serious dietary restraints that NEED TO KNOW.

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My friend Shirley is sending the following letter to her Congressmen and Senators and suggests you consider doing so if you feel strongly about this issue.

Subject: Please cosponsor the MEAL Act!

Dear [decision maker name automatically inserted here],

I urge you to cosponsor Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Rosa DeLauros’s Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, which would provide nutrition information on chain restaurant menus and menu boards. Menu labeling would allow Americans to make informed choices and take responsibility for their diets when eating out.
This bill is very much in demand, as Americans eat out more and are increasingly concerned about health and nutrition; 78% of people support menu labeling.
Without menu labeling, who can tell that a TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich (790 calories) at Burger King has more calories than a Whopper (670 calories), or that a large chocolate milkshake at McDonald’s (1,160) has more than double the calories of a Big Mac (560)?
Finding nutrition information in a restaurant shouldn’t be a scavenger hunt. The information should be in the same place in each restaurant- on the menu, where people are already getting the other information they nee d to order, like product descriptions and prices. When nutrition information is posted on websites, tray liners, or brochures, customers (like myself) can’t find the information or use it at the point when we are deciding what to order.
The MEAL Act, sponsored by Representative DeLauro and Senator Harkin, would provide nutrition information on chain restaurant menus and menu boards where it is easy to find and use. The MEAL Act is supported by major health organizations.
The restaurant industry-supported LEAN Act would undermine the purpose of providing nutrition information, which is to give consumers easy-to-use, easy-to-locate information at the point of ordering. The most significant difference between the MEAL Act and the LEAN Act is that under LEAN, nutrition information would not be required to be posted on the menu. Restaurants would have the option to post information through a variety of formats that people rarely see. LEAN also would overturn existing menu labeling policies and prevent other states and localities from passing restaurant labeling policies. The LEAN Act is supported by the restaurant industry, but most health organizations and experts oppose this legislation.
I urge you to cosponsor the MEAL Act and oppose the LEAN Act. Thank you for your time and please let me know if you will cosponsor the MEAL Act.

Shirley Dawkins

One thought on “Restaurant menu labeling issue up for consideration

  1. Interesting subject.

    This reminds me of the Allergy Labeling Law that went into effect a very few years ago. It requires companies to list on their products, the top 8 food allergens if they are included in a product, and list them in a way that there’s no doubt what they are talking about, not the chemical gargon that used to not be understandable to the general public. It also makes it much easier for a young child to recognize that s/he can’t eat something that is offered him/her.

    The way things were before the law, there was no tellin’ what an allergic person was eating, so they would frequently end up in the emergency room, if in fact, they lived long enough to get there. This cost insurers and tax payers millions in health care, which should be much lower now that these products have to reveal, in plain language what is in their products. This is especially important as allergies are, for some unknown reason, rapidly increasing in the population.

    This law does not apply to restaurants, but I have found that even when restaurants WANT to tell you what’s in their menu items, they can’t because they don’t know themselves. That makes me think this law doesn’t apply to suppliers.

    If this was required of suppliers, then all a restaurant would have to do would be to look at the container their ingredient/s came in and pass that information on to their customer in the restaurant, so that they could be better informed as to what, if anything, they could eat there.

    Restaurant owners would also be better able to make decisions as to which ingredients to buy based on the unnecessary presence of common allergens so as to avoid having to do CPR in the middle of the rush hour — bad for business!

    Actually, the extension of allergen labeling laws to products all the way down the chain would make it much easier for restaurant owners, and they would have more business as allergic people would begin to feel more confident that they could find a few things to eat safely if they simply follow the labeling when they order. They usually will bring along their non-allergic families and friends, so that has a multiplier effect.

    This is a little bit different than the requirements in terms of fat and other nutritional things. One thing that comes to mind that, on the spur of the moment, seems a bit more rational — that would be to require certain parameters in terms of % fat and other content for what could be legally labeled “hamburger,” “steak,” etc. To alter the amount of fat in hamburger meat, or filler, for that matter, could, therefore, be treated as cheating the customer, and thus, breaking a fiduciary responsibility to the client.

    This would stop the supplier from selling what would then be “non-hamburger” to a restaurant, and therefore, take some of the responsibility off the restaurant. It wouldn’t be feasible for a restaurant to have to test every order of meat before they could use it.

    I hadn’t realized how much our processed foods were altered until I got an IBD that is also an autoimmune disease that responds to eliminating certain foods from my diet. I learned a whole lot more about the processed food industry, alot of which is hard to believe.

    I really had had no clue what I was eating prior to having to read labels and about the ways that foods are doctored up to make us actually crave them. There are chemicals put in processed foods that are developed in food labs by food chemists, that actually are what are called “excitotoxins” and these cause our brains to crave these foods, so they really become something we are addicted to.

    Other alterations are made to our food to give them longer shelf life. This is why vegetables, as just one example, from some stores will seem not to deteriorate as fast as those from say, an organic farmers garden which hasn’t been genetically modified. If it doesn’t deteriorate normally fairly quickly, then, there’s a good chance it won’t be easy for your digestive system to break it down and utilize the nutrients from it, and it’s more likely to gum up the works, causing one all sorts of problems. Food should be able to move quickly through one’s system, and rmoved.

    There are other sneaky ways that products are altered to increase their shelf life, but I won’t go into that here.

    I hope to be able to study these two proposals soon. Thanks for posting this! One of my favorite topics!


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