- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

District Council member Phil Mendelson said yesterday he will introduce a bill next week requiring restaurant chains to put the nutritional content of their food on the menu.

The at-large Democrat plans to introduce the measure Tuesday. He introduced a similar bill in June 2003, but that legislation was defeated.

The upcoming bill is intended to give consumers information about their eating habits in an effort to curb rising obesity rates in the nation, Mr. Mendelson said at a health policy conference yesterday.

“People don’t realize in subtle ways we are being pushed to eat more and more,” Mr. Mendelson said at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northwest.

The legislation would require chain restaurants, with 10 or more locations nationwide, in the District to put nutritional information on their menus or menu boards.

The information would include the amount of calories, sodium, saturated and trans fat and carbohydrates for the standard items on the menu. Monthly and daily specials, in addition to customized items, would be exempted.

The rule would be enforced by D.C. Health Department during its regular inspections of restaurants, Mr. Mendelson said. While health inspectors could not close a restaurant that fails to alter its menus, they could impose a $500 fine under the proposed bill.

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, a D.C. trade group with 600 members, said it would oppose any new menu-labeling bill.

“The last time we looked at this type of legislation, we found it could cost as much as $57,000 just do the testing for one menu the first time,” said Andrew Kline, general counsel.

Mr. Mendelson’s announcement comes two days after McDonald’s Corp., the Oakbrook, Ill., fast-food chain, said it would start putting nutritional information on the outside of most of its food packaging next year.

While he applauded McDonald’s initiative, Mr. Mendelson said the company did not go far enough.

“Consumers need this information before the sale,” he said.

McDonald’s tested putting nutritional content on its menus but found consumers did not like the placement, said spokeswoman Lisa Howard. The chain has no plans to put the information on its menu boards.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a D.C. public health-advocacy group that helped craft the bill, said about 77 restaurant chains located in the District would be affected.

Workplace flu plan

American businesses risk losing up to $7.7 billion annually because of flu-related employee absences, according to an analysis released this week by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

The New York outplacement firm urged U.S. companies to set up a workplace flu plan at the start of the winter flu season, which extends from November through March.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which used industry and government statistics to calculate its $7.7 billion flu tab, encouraged companies to set up a flu plan.

Suggestions included subsidizing flu shots, stocking up on surgical masks and allowing workers to shop online outside of office hours during the holiday season.

Health Care runs Fridays. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892 or e-mail her at mhiggins@washingtontimes.com.

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