Deal struck to post calorie counts at chain restaurants nationwide *

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Restaurant groups, nutrition and disease-prevention advocates and Washington lawmakers from both sides of the partisan divide on Wednesday announced they have hammered out an agreement that will put calorie contents on the menus of chain restaurants and other nutritional information within easy reach of consumers.

Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)*, Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Wednesday that a draft compromise would oblige any establishment that is part of a chain of 20 or more restaurants operating under the same name to post the calorie content of all of its regular offerings and, upon request, to provide written information about menu items’ fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sodium, sugars, dietary fiber and protein.


The draft language is to be included in an omnibus health reform bill under assembly on Capitol Hill. It would create a single national standard for nutritional disclosure by chain restaurants and eateries, preempting provisions adopted by some localities that have been stricter.

Agreeing to the compromise provision announced Wednesday are a wide range of powerful players in the debate: the National Restaurant Assn., the Darden Group (which operates such chains as Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze Island Grille), Brinker International(operators of Chili’s, Maggiano’s and On the Border Mexican Grille and Cantina), Dunkin’ Donuts, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Dietetic Assn., the American Diabetes Assn., the American Academy of Pediatrics and Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Predicting its ultimate passage, Harkin called the provision critical to the development of a society focused on disease prevention and health promotion. The broad political base of Wednesday’s accord means its adoption is likely.

There are some exemptions from the provision: Chain restaurants need not provide calorie or other nutritional information on items that are daily specials, temporary offerings on the menu for fewer than 60 days or foods that are being market-tested for fewer than 90 days.

-- Melissa Healy

* An earlier version of this story referred to Tom Harkin as being from Arkansas.