How many calories in that extra-large pizza? Restaurants want ‘flexibility’ in menu labeling

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The restaurant industry on Tuesday asked the federal government to tone down -- and delay -- some of its proposed rules for displaying calorie counts on menus.

The industry wants the Food and Drug Administration, which is developing the rules, to allow a variety of approaches for letting consumers know how many calories are in the food they are considering buying. For example, said Dan Roehl, lobbyist for the National Restaurant Assn., the rules would require pizza chains to post the calories for an entire pizza -- even if it’s a large -- rather than posting them by the slice.

The industry also wants flexibility in how it presents the calorie content of dishes that could be more or less fattening depending on what sauces, cheeses or other items are put on top. For example, if a burger chain has a sandwich that can include bacon, cheese and avocado, the FDA’s current proposal would require the chain to post a range of calories, from the lowest amount to the highest, based on the consumer’s various options.

But in comments filed with the federal agency, the restaurant association and another trade group, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, said eateries should be allowed to choose the best way to present such information. For example, the associations said, it might be better to allow restaurants to post the average of possible calorie counts, rather than the whole range.


The organizations also want the FDA to put off implementation of the rules to a year after they are finalized, instead of the six months currently proposed. The rules are expected to be issued at the end of 2011, so that would mean restaurants would have until the end of 2012 to put the calorie counts on menus nationwide. The rules, passed as part of the massive healthcare overhaul last year, would apply to any restaurant chain that has 20 or more locations operating under the same name nationwide.

In one area, the restaurants wanted the FDA to tighten the proposed rules: They want movie theaters, the snack bars in big warehouse stores and other food vendors that are exempted from the law to be required to comply as well if they have more than 20 locations.

Calorie counts are already required on menus of restaurants with more than 20 locations in California, but the state has put off enforcing the law until the federal regulations are in place. Tuesday was the last day to file comments on the proposed federal regulations.

-- Sharon Bernstein

on Twitter @sharonbernstein

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