- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

The Montgomery County Council is deciding whether residents want and need nutritional information on the menu, literally.

Council member George Leventhal introduced legislation that would require restaurants with more than 10 locations nationwide to post nutritional information — calories, saturated fat and sodium levels — on the menus and menu boards in the county.

Groups such as the National Restaurant Association, the Center for Consumer Freedom and the National Council of Chain Restaurants argued in a public hearing last week that putting nutritional information on menus doesn’t prompt consumers to eat better and could even lead to apathetic consumers who don’t care about calories.

Restaurant owners told the council that providing nutritional information may be more expensive for consumers.

Greg Hourigan, owner of Hard Times Cafe Bethesda, said it costs him about $400 to change his menu, and he doesn’t expect the nutritional information to significantly change what people eat — a sentiment echoed by John Nestor, general manager of Houston’s Restaurant in Bethesda.

“Parents and kids come into my restaurant and instead of ordering the celery and carrots, they order the fried chicken nuggets for their kids,” Mr. Hourigan said.

Groups speaking in favor of the legislation included the Center for Science in the Public Interest as well as Montgomery County residents including a dietician and a registered nurse.

They said the nutritional information would allow consumers to make better choices and help fight obesity problems.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, went up to Rockville to speak in favor of the legislation. He introduced similar legislation in D.C. with Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, in March. It’s now stuck in the Committee on Health.

“Over and over again, Americans are given the message to watch what they eat. Yet how can we? How can one watch their calories when one can’t count them?” Mr. Mendelson told the Montgomery County Council.

Under the bill, fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s would be required to post information, but smaller chains or mom-and-pop shops would not.

“We think that our residents might like to be better informed about what they are eating in chain restaurants,” Mr. Leventhal said.

Montgomery is the first county in the country to propose this type of legislation. A federal judge earlier this month struck down a New York City regulation that would have required restaurants there to post calorie information on menus.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Holwell said the law conflicted with federal law because it only required restaurants to post the information if they were voluntarily doing so anyway as of March 1. Judge Holwell said the law would stand if it required all restaurants to post the same information.

Mr. Leventhal pointed out that the Montgomery County bill requires all restaurants — with more than 10 locations — to post menu information.

The Council’s Health and Human Services Committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the bill.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.

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