- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Several federal lawmakers are trying to change the menus at large fast-food and restaurant chains.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, yesterday introduced a bill that would require chains with 20 or more locations to list calories, trans-fat, saturated fat and sodium next to each item on menus or menu boards.

The Menu Education and Labeling Act is expected to be followed by a bill from Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, that will mirror Mrs. DeLauro’s measure, except it will include demanding nutritional labels on the exterior of vending machines.

Mrs. DeLauro said her bill is a necessary step in curbing the soaring obesity rates among American adults. About 31 percent of adults and 15 percent of children nationwide were obese in 2001.

Obese people are overweight by at least 100 pounds and face serious health risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease and certain cancers.

“This bill will give consumers the necessary nutritional information to make healthy choices for themselves,” she said at press conference on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Harkin said more consumers would rethink supersizing their meals if they knew the average supersized fries has 610 calories compared with the small size with 210 calories.

“So many people are getting suckered into these supersized gimmicks because they are led to believe that bigger is better value. But if you continue to choose supersized, the odds are you will be supersized,” he said.

While several fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King have nutritional information on their Web sites and in store brochures, Mrs. DeLauro said customers need to see the information at the cash register to make an informed decision.

Mrs. DeLauro’s bill is the first federal effort to mandate nutritional labeling of restaurant food. State bills have been introduced in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Texas, California and the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also is considering a voluntary and even mandatory program for restaurants to disclose calorie counts on menu boards to help people make healthier diet choices.

But the $426 billion restaurant industry argues the measure would be impossible for most restaurant owners because of the variation in menu items. Restaurants also could be held liable for falsely reporting nutritional content on their menus.

While processed foods are made by standard size and ingredient specifications, chefs in the restaurant kitchens often take greater liberties with the menu and are constantly introducing items, said Steven Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association.

“This is something that would hit the fine-dining establishments the hardest because they offer a less-standardized product,” Mr. Anderson said.

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