More menu labeling on tap as Congress set to revisit LEAN Act

WASHINGTON Even as federal lawmakers plan in the next few weeks to revisit the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act, which would create a national standard for menu-labeling mandates, more municipalities are looking to jump on the nutrition disclosure bandwagon.

The most recent states to join the growing list looking to require that calorie counts and other nutrition information appear on menus are Maryland and Tennessee. More than 30 states, cities or counties [3] have either enacted or are proposing menu labeling regulations.

In Nashville, the local health board said Thursday it would begin requiring chain restaurants with 15 or more locations to post the caloric content of food items on menus, menu boards and promotional materials starting March 31, 2010. State lawmakers are also pondering menu-labeling legislation.

The news out of Nashville followed the March 3 announcement by Maryland’s general assembly of sweeping legislation that calls for fast-food chains with 15 restaurants or more to post caloric content on their menu boards. In addition, full-service, sit-down chains with 15 or more outlets would be required to post on their printed menus not only caloric information, but also the amounts of saturated and trans fat, carbohydrates and sodium in each item.

According to Melvin Thompson, vice president of government relations for the Maryland Restaurant Association, his group has secured enough support to hold off a vote on the menu-labeling measure until the LEAN Act has had time to make its way through Congress.

“We have already had hearings on this legislation and through our testimony and early grassroots action from our membership, we have convinced a majority of lawmakers to allow us the opportunity to move the LEAN Act through congress before we pass statewide menu-labeling legislation in Maryland,” Thompson said.

He added that the general assembly’s session ends April 13 and that “anything can happen between now and then, but right now it does not appear [they] have the votes to pass.”

In Nashville, restaurant industry representatives have appealed to the board of health to wait for Congress to consider the LEAN Act before enacting its calorie-posting legislation, according to published reports.

Aspokesman for the National Restaurant Association said the LEAN Act, which was introduced last September but died when Congress ended its session, would be reintroduced “into one or the other of the chambers next week.”

If passed, the bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would require chains with more than 20 units to post calorie contents for all menu items.

Menu-labeling legislation has garnered increasing support on both the state and local levels as more information has come to light regarding the rise in U.S. obesity rates, particularly among adolescents, and its relationship to the onset of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

In addition to Maryland and Tennessee, other states that have passed or are considering menu-labeling regulations include Indiana, Florida, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and South Carolina.

In addition, New York City last year became the first city to enforce a calorie-posting rule at chain restaurants with 15 or more locations. Westchester County in New York, King County in Washington and Philadelphia also have enacted disclosure regulations.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected] [4].