(UPDATED, Nov. 11) The House health care bill, passed Nov. 7, includes nutrition information posting requirements for restaurants.
About nine of the 1,990 pages in the document are dedicated to menu labeling requirements for restaurants chains with more than 20 units, similar to what was introduced into the Senate this summer.
“We’re very pleased that the nutrition labeling provision continues to garner bipartisan support, and we’re pleased it’s moving forward in the House,” said Mike Donohue, vide president of media relations for the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association.
At this stage, the passing of the bill means the House has come together around one health care bill. The Senate, however, is still working on two, only one of which includes menu nutrition labeling provisions.
The Senate would need to reconcile its two and approve one, and then the approved bill from each house would need to be reconciled into one and be approved by the senators and representatives again, so the movement still has a ways to go.
“It’s a strong, positive step forward that the agreement is moving forward in the House,” Donohue said.
The connection with health care reform in both houses means the legislation could move by late this year or early 2009, Donohue said, although the government’s original goal for health care reform was this summer.
“It’s allowing the initiative to have a legislative vehicle with which to move, so that’s progress,” Donohue said.
The bill includes menu and menu board labeling requirements for restaurant operations, retail venues and vending machines with more than 20 units. Calorie information is required for each menu item, with some sort of adjacent or easily accessible posting of general daily consumption needs.
Chain restaurants would be required to post calorie information for standard menu items, ones that are offered at least 60 days a year.
Although not required on menu postings, additional nutrition information would also need to be accessible, and operators would be required to let consumers know of its availability.
One of the main purposes of this piece of the legislation, and one of the reasons for many restaurant chains’ support of the initiative, is to standardize the menu labeling laws already created or enacted by several states and regions throughout the country, including the state of California and New York City.
One group of restaurant chains sent out a letter this summer claiming that the laws created an unfair competitive landscape, in that smaller chains or independent restaurants would not be required to disclose nutrition information.
“That has not had any impact whatsoever on this bipartisan legislation,” Donohue said.
The National Restaurant Association supports the menu labeling initiative, but not the entire health care bill because of human relations issues related to health benefits that it claims would harm small businesses. Other foodservice-interested groups, including the International Franchise Association and the National Council of Chain Restaurants, have said the same about the legislation.