Senators Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a federal menu labeling bill called the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act (LEAN Act) on Thursday, which would require chains with more than 20 units to post calorie counts for all menu items.

“This bill is not going to magically solve our obesity problems,” Carper says, “but I do believe we have a responsibility to give Americans, more and more of whom are eating outside the home these days, the tools they need to make healthy, educated choices.”

The legislation is the first of its kind affecting prepared foods. Almost 20 years ago, the Nutritional Labeling Education Act, requiring packaged foods to include nutrition information, was enacted. Recently pro-menu-labeling campaigns have gained ground with areas like New York City and several markets in California passing local requirements for chain restaurants.

“We support the legislation’s goal to replace a patchwork of inconsistent state and local ordinances with a national standard for chain restaurants,” says Dawn Sweeney, National Restaurant Association (NRA) president and CEO. Sweeney went on to say the legislation empowers consumers to make the best food choices for themselves and calls it a “positive step” for restaurants and consumers.

Originally state restaurant associations were against any labeling requirements, but as the movement gained steam over the last year, support has shifted to a uniform policy to replace the “growing patchwork of regulation.”

If enacted, the LEAN Act would not only require a uniform national nutritional standard, it would also provide for a single set of guidelines in how nutrition information is calculated and would provide legal protection for restaurants that follow the law. Opponents to earlier regulations cited the exposure to potential lawsuits as the

“The LEAN Act will facilitate a national debate on the important issue of menu labeling and will raise a broader discussion on the importance of healthy lifestyle choices,” Murkowski says.

Carper says he looks forward to working with restaurants to craft the legislation, which he hopes will provide Americans with the information to make healthy choices when dining out.

–Blair Chancey

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