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Retailers Grappling to Get Clarity on Menu Labeling Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is shedding more light on the new menu-labeling standards for food retailers, but some say it's not enough.

The agency on March 12 issued the Small Entity Compliance Guide to serve as a summary of the rule. However, during a congressional hearing on the FDA’s budget request that same day, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said the guidance "had no real benefit."

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said further guidance would be forthcoming, according to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.

In November, the FDA released its finalized rule on menu labeling that includes c-stores under the regulations. The final regulations require caloric information to be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, similar retail food establishments and vending machines with 20 or more locations to provide consumers with more nutritional information about the foods they eat outside the home, according to the FDA, as CSNews Online previously reported.

The final menu-labeling rule goes into effect Dec. 1. NACS has issued its own summary and compliance guide for retailers.

According to NACS, it continues to work with federal officials to obtain guidance and clarification on certain aspects of the menu-labeling rule. In addition, the association is working with key members of Congress to revise federal menu-labeling requirements in a manner that accommodates the different business models convenience stores implement to sell food.

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) also weighed in on Thursday's FDA budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee.

"Food retailers were given only until Dec. 1, 2015 to comply with FDA's expansive menu labeling mandate. Already one-quarter of that implementation time is behind us, and we still have not received critical guidance from FDA to move forward with our efforts. Dozens of critical questions still have not been answered," said Jennifer Hatcher, FMI's senior vice president of government and public affairs.

"Today's FDA guidance document for small businesses seems to merely serve to comply with a requirement of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act to put complex rules into an easier-to-understand format. It does not attempt to address any of the outstanding questions FMI members have raised," Hatcher added.

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