Nathan's Menu

Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure?

Look out, folks. Congress has some common sense nutrition disclosure coming your way. While House members waited for a budget agreement from the Senate this week, they needed something to do. So they passed the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act and sent it on to the Senate. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, sponsor of the bill, hailed it as a triumph for consumers:

It makes it easier for customers to actually see and understand the information because it’s displayed where customers actually place orders – including by phone, online, or through mobile apps. By bringing this rule into the 21st century, customers can trust they are getting the reliable information they need in an easy to access, consumer-friendly way.

Driven by Consumers or Pizza Parlors?

It’s possible that this isn’t purely a matter of getting consumers better access to the information they want. First of all, it allows many places to post the information online, not in the restaurant. So, yeah. This is consumer choice. You can stop and look up the calories online. Or you can get on with it and order that double-stuffed pizza. You decide.

Have no doubt – the American Pizza Community is applauding. The Crinkle-Cut French Fry Association would be clapping, too. But they couldn’t get organized in time.

An Impact on Health or Obesity?

In case you thought this battle might be decisive for overcoming obesity, rest easy. This is mainly a bit of trench warfare between food policy activists and many thousands of restaurants serving you all you can eat.

Consumer behavior research doesn’t suggest that calorie labeling has much of an effect on what people eat. But Harvard’s Jason Block tells CNN that it’s important regardless:

Calorie labeling will not change things overnight, and it won’t alter the American diet just by itself. But it’s a valuable tool to help consumers and retailers make healthier choices for their families.

Setting aside the question of effectiveness, people do like having the information. And they’re also good at ignoring it if they’re so inclined. So what’s the problem?

Well, for thousands of places ready sell you food every time you turn around, this is a royal pain. Gas stations and convenience stores want to be the place to go for “healthy eating” (and lots of it). But actually accounting for the nutritional value of what they’re selling? They don’t have time for that.

It’s hard to say where this will end. The Senate still has to pass it. But it has the fashionable feel of lightening the regulatory burden on business, so the odds are good. And in the end, the main impact will be on the lobbyists and activists who fought this battle. It’s keeping them busy.

Click here for more from CNN.

Nathan’s Menu, photograph © Edward Stojakovic / flickr

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February 9, 2018