- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

McDonald’s has decided it’s time to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the caloric content and nutritional value of the burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and other delectables they serve at 13,000 establishments around the country. Starting next spring, the leading fast-food chain will print in clear, basic language and symbols the fat, calorie, carbohydrate, and sodium count — right on the wrapper.

This is both a good move for consumers (it will help them make informed food choices) and for McDonald’s (by protecting the company from legal charges of withholding information from consumers, causing them unwittingly to get fat). The new full-disclosure policy could be seen as successful industry “self-regulation” — where progress is made without the heavy hand of government regulatory involvement.

But instead of extending wholehearted congratulations to the Mcfolks in Oakbrook, Ill., the regular suspects — specifically, the Center for Science in the Public Interest “food police” — complain that McDonald’s has not gone far enough.

CSPI claims the nutrition information is too little too late because the consumer is not “informed” until the purchase is made and he or she is unwrapping the packaging, complete with globs of ketchup. CSPI demands the nutrition information be on the menu board, with the prices and product name.

Will fast food critics ever be satisfied? Apparently not until there are warning labels and a skull and crossbones on every cheeseburger.



The facts are these:

(1) Eating is not simply a biological experience — it is a pleasure of life. People make food selections based on taste, cost and convenience, as well as on nutritional content.

(2) Fast-food establishments — like any other restaurant — aim to please the consumer. They are not guardians of the public health.

(3) At some point, full disclosure is achieved — and the consumer is on his or her own. McDonald’s not only has met that level of disclosure but is going well beyond.

Nutrition data (with caloric content the most critical) is available in extraordinary detail on the McDonald’s Web site. In most outlets, brochures with relevant nutrition data are available on-site. Even the place mats tell you more than you need to know about what is in the Big Mac and its culinary siblings.

Having new, detailed info on the packaging pushes disclosure further. The new wrappers will not only present nutritional content but provide the percent daily values for various nutrients, much as labels on various foods do already.

And if you didn’t know your Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese contains 730 calories, you do now, so maybe next time you’ll choose a salad or add a 4-mile walk to your routine.

Putting even more numbers and data on the menu board would not only be a logistical nightmare but would turn the meal into a clinical event. Enough already with these patronizing policies that assume we are all idiots who need the nutrition nannies continuously scolding us — even at point of sale.

Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan is president of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org, HealthFactsAndFears.com).

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