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NJ readies menu labeling law

TRENTON N.J. New Jersey lawmakers passed Wednesday a measure requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets around the country to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards in their locations throughout the state.

The state Assembly passed the bill by a margin of 42 to 32, with one abstention. The Senate had passed the bill late last year by 22 to 15, and now it goes to the governor for his signature. Outgoing New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has said he would sign the menu labeling legislation. Once signed, the law gives chain restaurants one year to comply.

Deborah Dowdell, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, said: “In my heart of hearts, I think it’s a sad day when menus in New Jersey are forced to become public service announcements for the government. While we understand the public wants nutritional information, we maintain that requiring that it be available on menus is not where we should be going. This is an encroachment on our businesses.

“Now, we’re looking at salt [restrictions], and later, it’s going to be sweets. This is not where we should be,” she said.

According to the New Jersey bill, qualifying restaurants must post calories counts adjacent to food and beverage items on menus and menu boards, and also make available additional nutritional information to customers upon request.

Daily specials, temporary menu items, customized orders or food or beverage items from the salad bar would be excluded.

Operators who do not comply with the law could be fined from $50 to $100 for a first offense, and $250 to $500 for the second and subsequent offenses.

The legislation protects any noncomplying restaurants from legal action from a member of the public. It also provides for pre-emption at the federal level.

Other jurisdictions with menu labeling laws include New York City; Philadelphia; Nashville, Tenn.; New York’s Albany, Westchester, Suffolk and Ulster counties; and Oregon’s Multnomah County. Maryland’s Montgomery Council passed a similar law last year. On the federal level, both the U.S. Senate and House health care reform bills have menu-labeling provisions attached.

Dowdell also said she commended the members of the New Jersey Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association “who engaged with us to narrow the impact of bill initially. We helped shift it from five or more units to 20 or more. We also now have liability protection and federal pre-emption.”

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected].

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