House passes 'Common Sense' bill to ease restaurant menu mandate

The House recently passed H.R.2017 -- also called the Common Sense Nutrition Act -- which is aimed to ease how restaurants comply with FDA regulations to post calorie information.

The FDA's upcoming regulations require restaurants to put calorie and nutritional information on paper for every variation of the menu, even if most consumers are ordering pick-up/delivery. House Republicans are worried that even a slight change in an item -- like adding a pickle or taking one away -- will lead to frivolous lawsuits.

The original act from 2010 is meant to effect "certain chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations," according to the White House.

Proponents of the bill say the FDA's regulations are too strict and hurt both small market owners and consumers. Proponents of the act also say enforcing the FDA's regulations would be nearly impossible since the FDA doesn't inspect restaurants themselves. They also believe that the proposed bill would protect restaurants from lawsuits and criminal charges from their guests.

This legislation would give restaurants, grocers, and convenience stores the freedom to provide nutrition information in a way consistent with how they operate and how their customers actually place orders – including by phone, online, or through mobile apps. By bringing this rule into the 21st Century, customers can trust the reliable information they need will be easily accessible.
— Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.)

Opponents to the act say the Common Sense Nutrition Act is anything but "common sense" and hurts consumers by not providing them with the information needed to make healthy, informed decisions.

Despite the clever name, this anti-menu labeling bill is neither common sense nor would it disclose additional nutrition information. It would result in consumer confusion and prevent disclosure of straightforward, consistent calorie information at many food service establishments.
— Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest

The act has been heavily supported by "Big Pizza", led by Domino's Pizza, who have pushed for such a law since the regulation was passed in 2010. Some of the changes are relatively mundane word smithing, such as:

Striking “the number of calories contained in the standard menu item, as usually prepared and offered for sale”

Inserting “the number of calories contained in the whole standard menu item, or the number of servings (as reasonably determined by the restaurant or similar retail food establishment) and number of calories per serving, or the number of calories per the common unit division of the standard menu item, such as for a multiserving item that is typically divided before presentation to the consumer”

A "standard menu item" is a food item with the same recipe prepared in substantially the same way with substantially the same food components.

President Obama hasn't said whether or not he'd veto the bill, though the White House is definitely not in favor of the proposed rule.

H.R. 2017 would undercut the objective of providing clear, consistent calorie information to consumers. If enacted, it would reduce consumers’ access to nutrition information and likely create consumer confusion by introducing a great deal of variability into how calories are declared. The legislation also would create unnecessary delays in the implementation of menu labeling.
— White House press release

The FDA's menu-labeling regulation is currently scheduled to go into effect in December 2016.

Like the Common Sense Nutrition Act? Hate it? What about the FDA's menu-labeling regulations? Let us know in the comment section below.

Menu header image by Edward Stojakovic.