Maryland’s Montgomery County moves to require menu labeling

ROCKVILLE Md. The Montgomery County council has introduced a bill that would require chain restaurants to post nutritional information on menus and menu boards. The measure, which was sponsored by council member George Leventhal, D-At Large, would require foodservice operations with at least 10 locations to post the number of calories, grams of fat and grams of sodium on menus for any standardized menu item.

The introduction of the menu-labeling proposal in Montgomery County comes just weeks after lawmakers in Washington state’s King County passed a similar measure. That ordinance is slated take effect Aug. 1, 2008.

New York City also enacted a menu-labeling measure last year that was scheduled to be enacted July 1. But a lawsuit filed against the local health department by the New York State Restaurant Association prompted the city to postpone the enforcement of the law until Oct. 1.

The Washington, D.C., council also introduced a menu labeling bill in March, but that bill remains in the council’s Committee on Health. No hearing has been scheduled.

Commenting on the Montgomery County bill, Leventhal said: “I know people don’t want to be nagged. I just think what we want to try to do is provide consumers with more information. What they do with that information is up to them.”

Melvin Thompson, vice president of government affairs for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said RAM has discussed the issue with the county council, and told members it was just not feasible to provide nutritional information on menus because of the space limitations and also because it would slow speed of service.

“We’re proposing that the council allow operators to post the information elsewhere in the store — on brochures or posters or kiosks,” he said.

Thompson also said that RAM was not viewing this merely as a chain problem. “We’re looking at it as an industrywide issue,” he said. “We believe this is only an incremental move, and eventually it will be expanded to include all restaurateurs.”

Montgomery County earlier this year banned artificial trans fats that come from partially hydrogenated oils in restaurants. Duchy Trachtenberg, D-At Large, the sponsor of the trans fat-ban bill, also cosponsored the menu-labeling bill. Other jurisdictions that have enacted similar bans are New York City, Philadelphia, Albany County, N.Y., and Brookline, Mass.