The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has been lobbying the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Congress to ensure that grocery and convenience stores are subjected to the same uniform menu labeling regulations that requires restaurants, including franchised chains with 20 or more locations, to post calorie and nutritional information for all of their products on in-store menu boards. Interestingly, the NRA lobbied government for this Obamacare legislation located within section 4205 of the Affordable Care Act.
An NRA spokeswoman defended the organization’s advocacy for the regulation telling Breitbart News that too many localities across the nation were imposing a “patchwork” of nutritional and menu rules on chain restaurants, quick service, fine dining, fast food, and casual dining. The NRA claims its member businesses wanted a national uniform standard to avoid confusion of various laws in different areas of the country.
Bipartisan legislation proposed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) seeks to address the nutritional regulatory issue embedded in Obamacare. The bill, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2013, rolls back the regulation by improving disclosure requirements for restaurants, retail food establishments and vending machines.
The Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing (NACS) says the legislation would “codify a less burdensome approach to menu labeling by limiting the provision in the health care law to establishments that derive 50 percent or more of their revenue from food that is (a) intended for immediate consumption or (b) prepared and processed on-site. Prepackaged food would not be considered in this equation.” The bill has 51 co-sponsors and was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in March.
The bill’s exemption of grocery chains, convenience stores, and other related businesses did not sit well with the NRA, who responded to both members of Congress back in March:
“This legislation would broadly exempt chain grocery, convenience stores and other entities that sell restaurant food from providing uniform nutrition information to customers despite that fact that each day thousands of customers purchase meals at these establishments,” said Scott DeFife, the NRA’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs. “These companies each made strategic decisions to compete directly with their local restaurant community, in this regard, and need to play by the same rules as those with whom they choose to compete.”
The Food and Drug Administration is currently working to issue final menu-labeling rules governing how restaurants will provide nutrition information to consumers. The rules will affect companies with 20 or more locations operating under the same brand name.
“We understand that proposed rules have brought on some questions, and we look forward to working with Congress should these issues remain unresolved through the regulatory process,” DeFife said. “However, we strongly believe this legislative proposal is not the right way to address these concerns.”
The NRA points to Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s New York City as the first place menu labeling regulations happened about seven years ago.
“And then it spread to a California proposal. King County Washington and a number of other counties. At one point it was in about 35 to 40 state localities and county level proposals out there. We took a leadership role in advocating for one uniform standard,” said the NRA media representative.
It should be noted that President Barack Obama appointed former New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden to the Centers for Disease Control, a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services. Frieden previously served under NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was responsible for issuing the strict regulations and mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menu boards in New York. The National Institute for Health described Frieden and the role he would play in the administration’s health care reform strategy following the appointment :
Using words like “crusade” to describe his methodology, the New York Times reported, “Dr. Frieden is bound to kick up controversy,” because of his willingness “to challenge the status quo.” While the President, in his press release, lauded Dr. Frieden for his willingness to confront smoking, cancer, obesity, and other conditions of modern society, Dr. Frieden acknowledged the President’s and the Administration’s agenda. “President Obama and Secretary Sebelius recognize the importance of prevention–something CDC does well,” he noted. “Both are committed to prevention as a key component of health reform, as evidenced by the Recovery Act, and have highlighted the need for our society to do more to prevent, manage, and treat chronic diseases.”
As a result of the uniform menu and nutritional standard in Obamacare, a franchise like Dairy Queen told its customers in Washington State recently that it can no longer make their unique brand of homemade sauces and must serve customers pre-packaged sauces instead. :
“Due to the nutritional labeling requirements of ObamaCare, we have to serve pre-packaged, pre-made fry sauce. We can no longer make our own as we have done for many years. The additional cost to us is substantial, about $5,800 per year.
“I regret to say, we are forced to pass the cost of pre-packaged fry sauce, for take-out, along to you the customer. We will serve pre-made bulk fry sauce in the lobby at no additional charge. It is for the same reason we have had to discontinue our Buffalo Sauce and Habanero Ketchup, which were made in-store.
“Please be assured we are doing our very best to keep the cost to you, our customer, down while still maintaining the quality you have come to expect from us.”
NACS member Jay Ricker, owner of Ricker’s Convenience Stores, wrote an op-ed in September in The Journal Gazette hitting back at the menu labeling regulations from the FDA:
“America’s 149,000 convenience stores offer a quick, clean and friendly space for Americans to grab life’s essentials without breaking stride in their daily routine,” Ricker began. “So how much time would you be willing to spend deciphering nutrition information if it were wallpapered across the store? And how much more money would you be willing to pay to cover those costs?”
The one-size-fits-all approach is questionable, McMorris Rodgers and Sanchez argue, because supermarkets and grocery stores sell food items that have highly variable ingredients and nutritional values (i.e. salad bar, apple pie, etc.). Additionally, 95 percent of products sold in convenience and grocery stores already have nutrition labeling.
Small businesses could be hit the hardest. The American Action Forum argues that the estimated cumulative cost of the menu labeling regulation, including the cost of the menu boards and compliance hours, would be $757 million. In fact, The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ranked this menu labeling regulation as the third most costly rule enacted during FY 2010.