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UPDATE: Schwarzenegger vetoes Calif. menu-labeling bill

SACRAMENTO Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would have required some chain restaurants in California to post nutritional information on their menus and menu boards, calling it “impractical” as currently written. But the California Restaurant Association is already warning that a labeling mandate could come back in another form.

In rejecting the measure, Schwarzenegger called on restaurants to continue voluntarily making the information available to consumers via brochures, tray liners and other means.

“In vetoing this bill, I am calling upon the restaurant community to reiterate this commitment and continue to work with me, the proponents of this bill, and all Californians in developing effective ways to promote healthy dining options,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement issued after he vetoed Senate Bill 120 during the weekend.

The bill would have made California the first state in the nation to mandate menu labeling. The provision would have required restaurants sporting the same brand name and menu as at least 14 other places within the state to provide patrons with the amount calories, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates and sodium for every regular item on the bill of fare. Establishments that use a conventional menu would have been required to list the information next to each item “in a clear and conspicuous manner.” Places that rely on menu boards would have been obliged to display the number of calories on the board, with the other information available at the point of purchase in printed form, such as on a brochure or tray liner.

Specials, limited-time offers and alcoholic beverages would have been exempted.

In addition, chain restaurants that use a conventional menu would have been required to include in their menu a statement reading, “Recommended limits for a 2,000 calorie daily diet are 20 grams of saturated fat and 2,300 milligrams of sodium.”

Qualifying restaurants that did not post the required information by the July 1, 2009, deadline would have been subject to fines of $50 to $500.

Schwarzenegger said he objected to the measure because it “would place burdens and costs on some restaurant owners while imposing no burdens or costs on others. In addition, this bill provides restaurants with little flexibility for how they provide consumers with nutritional information.”

The veto was a victory for the California Restaurant Association, which vigorously opposed the legislation. However, Jot Condie, CRA president and chief executive, said he expects the proposal to come back again in some form.

“We’re going to be as aggressive ... fighting this, or anything like it, in the future,” Condie said. But he also urged operators to provide more information to consumers to avoid the imposition of more punitive rules down the road.

“I think the industry needs to become part of the solution,” Condie said.

At least 13 other states are believed to be considering menu-labeling mandates. A judge recently struck down a law requiring some chain restaurants in New York City to post calorie counts on their menus, but local authorities have indicated that they plan to rewrite the measure and reinstitute the requirement within a few months.

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