- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Key players in the restaurant industry yesterday fired back at recent government proposals to require nutritional labeling on menus.

The Food and Drug Administration, which has been considering voluntary or even mandatory labeling for restaurant chains, held a public hearing yesterday to determine how much food labels affect a consumer’s diet.

The Obesity Working Group, which was formed by FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan to study the government’s role in reducing obesity, will report its findings in February.

William Dietz, director for the CDC’s nutrition and physical activity division, said at the workshop that consumers should have as much information as needed “to make healthy decisions.”

About 30 percent of adults and 15 percent of children nationwide were obese in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But restaurant owners argue the proposed measure, which has ranged from putting calories and sodium totals on menus to including information on trans fat and saturated fat, would be costly and confusing.

Mats Lederhausen, president for McDonald’s Corp.’s business-development group, said the fast-food giant is considering offering nutritional content information on customer receipts.

“We’re still working out the technological challenges, but we’re committed to getting the information out there,” he said.

Chicago restaurant owner Linda Bacin said her chefs would lose their creative flair if they were forced to stick to nutritional guidelines.

“Chefs at bellaBacino’s view their work as an art, not an exact science. Menu labeling for my business would be completely unworkable,” Ms. Bacin said.

Chefs at i Ricchi Restaurant in the District often cook without using standard measurements or recipes to mirror authentic Italian cooking, owner Christianne Ricchi testified.

“No two dishes are prepared the same every time,” she said, adding that more than 60 percent of her restaurant orders are customized.

Ms. Ricchi said if she were forced to put nutritional facts on menus, she would stop offering new items.

The hearing comes as the District of Columbia and several states, including Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Texas and California, are considering menu-labeling legislation.

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