The National Restaurant Association today is filing comments regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) draft menu labeling regulations. The Association was a primary advocate for the menu labeling law, passed in March 2010, which will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations operating under the same brand to provide detailed nutrition information to consumers, and display calories on the menu, menuboard, or drive-thru menu.

“Given the complexity of the restaurant industry and the many different types of concepts ranging from quick service to fine dining, we appreciate the FDA’s efforts to draft these regulations,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “In our comments, we have outlined some of the ways we believe the regulations can be improved and strengthened, to better allow restaurants and foodservice outlets to most effectively display nutrition information to consumers.”

Some highlights of the comments include:

– Flexibility with Nutrition Disclosure. As written, the law requires nutrition information to be provided in a clear and conspicuous manner. The diversity and complexity of the restaurant industry make providing nutrition information to consumers far more complicated than it may seem on the surface. Greater flexibility is needed in order for operators to present information in a format and manner that works for their operation and customer. 

– Similar Retail Food Establishments. The Association feels strongly that the FDA should treat “similar retail food establishments” with restaurant-like operations the same under the law. “It is critically important to our membership that the final rule implementing nutrition disclosure reflects the intent of Congress and the shared goal of the Association, as well as the approximately 70 public and private organizations and consumer advocate groups that supported the passage of the nutrition disclosure law,” Sweeney says.

– Reasonable Basis Standard.  The Association calls for the FDA to follow congressional intent, captured by statute, that restaurant operators use the reasonable basis standard. The reasonable basis standard has been recognized by the FDA for twenty years in determining nutrition calculations required by the law, rather than a standard used for packaged foods produced in a food processing facility.

– One Year Implementation Timeframe.  Rather than a six month timeline which the FDA proposed, the Association believes that given the challenges and costs associated with creating new menus and menuboards, a one year implementation period will help restaurants more effectively absorb the additional burden (with many of the franchisees impacted being small business owners).

“We encourage the FDA to incorporate our suggested changes in determining the final regulations,” Sweeney says. “We want to make it easy for restaurants to share nutrition information with consumers.”

Under the law supported by the Association, nutrition information and calories on the menu and menu board will be available in more than 250,000 restaurant locations nationwide.

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