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Nutrition laws on legislative menu in Ind., Mass. and NY

Lawmakers in Indiana, Massachusetts and New York are looking to enact statewide menu-labeling measures, just four months after California became the first state to require the disclosure of nutrition information at chain restaurants.

In Indiana, the bill under consideration is particularly strong, requiring that restaurants with 10 or more units in the state list not only each menu item’s total calories, but also total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar and protein content.

The information could be posted on a menu or menu board or in a “separately printed document” available at the point of sale, according to the current bill, which was authored by state representative Charlie Brown, chairman of the state House of Representatives’ public-health committee. This is the second year the bill has been introduced.

If passed, the Indiana measure would go into effect July 1. Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 per violation per day.

The bill is similar to a law enacted in Philadelphia in December that is considered one of the strongest in the country by consumer advocacy groups. It requires local units of restaurant chains with at least 15 stores nationwide to post calorie counts, trans fat, saturated fat, sodium and carbohydrate contents on menus and menu boards starting Jan. 1, 2010.

In Massachusetts, the menu-labeling initiative is part of an anti-obesity campaign unveiled by Gov. Deval Patrick last month. According to a report in the Boston Globe, the provision would require chain restaurants with 15 or more units to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards.

If enacted in Massachusetts, the menu-labeling rule is expected to affect some 2,000 restaurants statewide, according to the Globe.

Officials at Dunkin’ Brands, which is based in Canton, Mass., and is parent to the Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins brands, said Patrick’s menu-labeling proposal was ill-timed.

“The increasingly complex, highly localized regulatory approach to menu labeling is both costly and disruptive to our franchisees and our business, especially in these challenging and increasingly uncertain economic times,” said Steve Caldeira, spokesman for Dunkin’ Brands.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson, in his State of the State address in January, called for a statewide menu-labeling measure that would require chain restaurants to post caloric content on their menus and menu boards. Paterson also called for a ban on trans fats in restaurants, a tax on sugared beverages, such as soda, and the discontinuation of “junk food” sales in schools as part of his Healthy Food/Healthy Communities Initiative.

“I haven’t seen anything in writing,” said Rick Sampson, president of the New York State Restaurant Association.

He noted that many chains already are making nutrition information available on the Internet and table tents.

“That’s something the industry can live with,” he said, adding that the government needs “to give the chain flexibility to give the information the way it sees fit; that has always been our argument.”

“We hope we’re included in the decision about how it is rolled out and how it operates,” he added. “Let’s sit down and come up with something that works for all of us.”

On Sept. 30, 2008, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure requiring chains with at least 20 stores statewide to post the calorie counts of standard dishes on menus and menu boards as of July 1.

While California was the first state to enact a nutrition disclosure law, several cities and counties also have moved on the issue. 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, Philadelphia, and Nashville, Tenn., also have enacted or are considering disclosure regulations.

To stem the growing patchwork of disclosure mandates, the National Restaurant Association has thrown its weight behind a federal proposal that would pre-empt all others called the Labeling Education and Nutrition, or LEAN, Act. The LEAN Act would require restaurant chains with 20 or more stores nationwide to post calorie counts and offer additional nutrition data at the point of sale.

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