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U.S. House Passes Bill to Ease Calorie-Labeling Regulations

The bill goes on to the Senate.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The United States House of Representatives has passed a bill that will ease nutritional labeling requirements at American restaurant chains, reports the Associated Press. The bill passed, 266-144, and if signed into law it would put a dent into an FDA mandate issued in November 2014.

The FDA's mandate called for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to include calorie counts on their menus by December 2016. The regulations covered all kinds of establishments: fast food, convenience stores, and sit-down restaurants alike. They were the result of a stipulation in the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, which was meant to stem the tide on the nation's obesity epidemic.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, leaves the labeling regulation in place, but proponents say it aims to make it easier for businesses to comply. In a statement released following the House vote, the Republican from Washington said it was meant to stop a one-size-fits-all policy.

"We must ensure America's job creators have the flexibility they need to grow their businesses, hire more employees, and serve their customers," Rodgers said. "That's why I introduced this bill — because prudent, effective labeling standards don't come in the form of one-size-fits-all rule set forth by unelected bureaucrats. I'm grateful for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their support in getting this bill through the House, and now I encourage the Senate to follow our lead before the FDA's rule has an irreversible impact on America's businesses."

However, Lauren Handel, an attorney with Foscolo & Handel LLC who is familiar with the legislation, says it's actually meant to allow businesses to present nutritional information in a different way.

"The proposed law addresses the concerns of some types of food service establishments — primarily take-out or delivery pizza businesses like Dominos — that receive orders mostly by phone or online and that allow customers to customize the menu items," Handel said in an email to Eater. "Those companies have objected that it makes little sense for them to provide the range of calories and other nutrition information for their menu items on a board in the store. The bill would allow them to provide the nutrition information online instead.

Restaurants could not be held liable for violating the law

"It also would allow restaurants to break up what might be a horrifyingly high calorie count for a standard menu item, like a whole pizza, into per serving or per slice information."

Handel said the bill also addresses the industry's concerns that companies will be sued if the nutrition information they provide is not entirely accurate: "The legislation provides that restaurants could not be held liable in civil litigation for violating the menu-labeling law."

Some restaurants began labeling calorie counts in the wake of the ACA becoming law, and a 2015 study examined how the labels affect diners. Researchers concluded displaying calorie counts "remains an unproven strategy for improving the nutritional quality of consumer food choices." They believe "additional policy efforts that go beyond labeling and possibly alter labeling to increase its impact must be considered."

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