Sunday, April 3, 2011


"Consumer is the king", an oft repeated slogan of the industry, seems to be at work again when the US FDA bowed to the pressure from the consumer protection organizations in making it mandatory for restaurant chains to display calorie count of foods served by them. So far compulsory label declaration for nutrients was restricted only to packaged foods and beverages which obviously does provide a conscious consumer with discretionary power to select most nutritious food and avoid so called "bad" foods. Here is a take on the latest move in that country and its repercussions.

"Americans now consume about one-third of their total calories on foods prepared outside the home," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "While consumers can find calorie and other nutrition information on most packaged foods, it's not generally available in restaurants or similar retail establishments. This proposal is aimed at giving consumers consistent and easy-to-understand nutrition information." Owners who operate 20 or more vending machines are also required to provide nutritional information for foods in the machine that do not carry it on their packaging. Proponents of these requirements are hopeful that posted nutrition information will make consumers more aware of what's in the food they're ordering. "Trying to find the healthy options when dining out can be more difficult than you think - even a salad can be loaded with hidden fat and sodium. In the same way that nutrition labels on packaged foods allow consumers to see exactly what they're eating and drinking, these calorie counts will empower Americans to make informed decisions when they eat away from home," said Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa in a statement. The new set of regulations will not apply to businesses such as bowling alleys and movie theaters, which serve food as a secondary service. Alcohol is also exempt from the requirements. Many commentators are disappointed by these exceptions.

It is interesting to note that the new law will apply only to chains owning more than 20 restaurants, obviously to avoid logistical hardship to small players with limited resources. The move is some what controversial since there are many exceptions to the rule, probably to accommodate pressures from lobbyists trying to protect their constituencies. Other wise does it make any sense to exempt movie theaters and similar entertainment centers where maximum "gorging" of food takes place? Also not understandable is the logic of declaring calories only while leaving out the most "dangerous" ingredient, the fat. Well one has to take this as a beginning and hopefully these anomalies will be sorted out as some experience is gained in the coming years after operationalizing the new rule.


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