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FDA: Crafting Menu Labeling Law is 'Thorny' Business

NATIONAL REPORT -- The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act charged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with requiring chain restaurants, supermarkets and vending machines to post calories counts. The agency then issued a proposed rule in 2011, which has been delayed as some of those non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard to be exempt.

According to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the business "has gotten extremely thorny."

The 2011 proposed rule would require chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, as well as convenience stores, coffee chains, bakeries and grocery stores to clearly post the calorie count for each menu item, making the information immediately available for most items. These establishments would have to supply additional nutritional information on request, and the rules would also apply to vending machines if calorie information isn't visible on the package.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Hamburg said, "There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable."

According to Hamburg, menu labeling has become one of the FDA's most challenging issues.

NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, has said its members will have their own problems when it comes to posting calories. "In a small store like a convenience store that is really putting a lot of signage all over the place, you just hit a point where words become noise, and that's not good," Jeff Lenard, NACS’ vice president, industry advocacy, told the news outlet.

However, nutrition lobbyist Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said supermarkets and convenience stores should be required to post calorie counts for all items because they are breaking more and more into the prepared food business.

The restaurant industry has also lobbied for prepared foods in supermarkets and c-stores to be included, arguing that they are essentially selling the same items.

"It's all about the food, not the format," Scott DeFife of the National Restaurant Association told the AP. He added that some c-stores have joined the National Restaurant Association since many gas stations now include restaurants in their stores.

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