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More States Eye Menu Labeling Laws

NEW YORK -- Lawmakers in New York and Massachusetts are looking to enact statewide menu-labeling measures, just three months after California became the first state to require the disclosure of nutrition information at chain restaurants.

As reported by Nation’s Restaurant News, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday unveiled a new anti-obesity campaign including a menu-labeling provision.

According to a report in the Boston Globe, the provision would require chain restaurants with 15 or more units to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards. The state’s Public Health Council is expected to approve the proposal next week and a final vote would follow a public comment period. If enacted, the menu-labeling rule is expected to affect some 2,000 restaurants statewide, the Globe reported.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson in his recent "State of the State" address, called for a statewide menu-labeling measure requiring chain restaurants to post caloric content on menus and menu boards. Paterson also called for a ban on trans-fats in restaurants, a tax on sugared beverages such as soda, and the discontinuation of "junk food sales in schools as part of his Healthy Food/Healthy Communities Initiative. No timeframe has been set for implementing the proposals, the report stated.

"I haven’t seen anything in writing," said Rick Sampson, president of the New York State Restaurant Association. He noted many chains already are making nutrition information available on the Internet and table tents. "That’s something the industry can live with," he said. The government needs "to give the chain flexibility to give the information the way it sees fit. That has always been our argument."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30, 2008, signed into law a measure requiring chains with at least 20 stores statewide to post the calorie counts of standard dishes on menus and menu boards by July 1. While California was the first state to enact a nutrition disclosure law, several cities and counties have also moved on the issue. New York City last year became the first city to enforce a calorie-posting rule at chain restaurants with 15 or more locations. Westchester County in New York, King County in Washington, Philadelphia and Nashville, Tenn., have also enacted or are considering disclosure regulations, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.

To stem the growing patchwork of disclosure mandates, the National Restaurant Association has thrown its weight behind a federal proposal that would pre-empt all others called the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act. The LEAN Act would require restaurant chains with 20 or more stores nationwide to post calorie counts and offer additional nutrition data at the point of sale.
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