by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Calorie-labeling

Jun 20 2017

The administration’s war on food: summary by the Environmental Working Group

Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group summarizes Trump’s Full-Scale War on Food.  Since taking office, he writes, Trump has:

  • Proposed to cut food safety funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $117 million.
  • Proposed to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by $193 billion – a 25 percent cut – and cut international food aid by $2 billion.
  • Delayed new labeling rules for menus and packaged foods that would give consumers more information about calories and added sugars, and so far failed to issue a draft rule to implement a new law on disclosing genetically modified ingredients in food.
  • Weakened new rules designed to drive junk food out of U.S. schools.
  • Proposed to eliminate several Department of Agriculture programs that helped farmers sell directly to local consumers.
  • Proposed to eliminate funding for an entire division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that works to reduce obesity.
  • Withdrawn new rules to protect drinking water supplies from polluters and proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent.
  • Proposed to suspended two of the largest farmland stewardship programs and mothball others.
  • Postponed new rules designed to strengthen animal welfare standards on organic farms and proposed to eliminate funding for programs that help farmers switch to organic farming.
  • Reversed a ban on a pesticide linked to brain damage in kids and proposed cutting EPA funding for pesticide review programs by 20 percent.
  • Punted on new rules to protect farmworkers from pesticides, and proposed to eliminate a program to train migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
  • Mothballed new voluntary sodium guidelines that would drive reformulation of foods.
  • Called for so-called regulatory “reforms” that would block agencies like the FDA and USDA from adopting new rules designed to keep food safe, update food labels or provide students healthier meal options in schools.

This is an impressive list, calling for serious resistance.

How?  That’s the question….

 

May 1 2017

Government’s food regressions: FDA and USDA

It’s pretty depressing to watch what’s happening to the gains in food and nutrition policy so hard won in the last few years.

Nothing but bad news:

Menu labeling:  The FDA is submitting interim final rules, a tactic to delay implementation of menu labeling, which was supposed to start on May 5.  Why?  The National Association of Convenience Stores and the National Grocers Association filed a petition asking for the delay.   Pizza sellers have been lobbying like mad to avoid having to post calories.

Food labels (calories, added sugars): As the Washington Post puts it, the food industry is counting on the current administration to back off on anything that might help us all make better food choices.  At least 17 food industry groups have asked for a delay in the compliance date for new food labels—for three years.  Why?  They are a burden to industry.  The soon-to-be FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, said this about food labels:

As a general matter, I support providing clear, accurate, and understandable information to American consumers to help inform healthy dietary choices,” Gottlieb wrote, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. “ … However, I am mindful of the unique challenges that developing and communicating such information can pose, particularly on small, independent businesses.”

Definition of dietary fiber: The American Bakers Association wants the FDA to take back its new, stricter definition of dietary fiber, (it excludes synthetic fiber) due to go into effect in July 2018.

School meals: The USDA says it is about to announce new school meal “flexibility” (translation: rollback of nutrition standards).

The score: Big business 4, public health 0

Happy May Day.

For further reading:

Addition: It gets worse.  Politico reports that the congressional spending bill:

Contains a rider blocking funds from being used to work on “any regulations applicable to food manufacturers for population-wide sodium reduction actions or to develop, issue, promote or advance final guidance applicable to food manufacturers for long term population-wide sodium reduction actions until the date on which a dietary reference intake report with respect to sodium is completed.”

Politico also points out that the previous draft of the appropriation bill merely encouraged FDA to delay its salt reduction proposal until the reference intake report is updated (this, by the way, will take years).

More documents:

Nov 29 2016

FDA clarifies what’s happening with menu labeling

Remember menu labeling—the amazing number of calories posted on your favorite items at chain restaurants?  For those of you who don’t live in New York City or other places with calorie labels, they are supposedly coming soon to places near you.

Here’s FDA-speak for what is happening:

In December 2015, section 747 of the 2016 Omnibus Bill prohibited FDA from using appropriated funding to implement, administer, or enforce the menu labeling requirements until one year after FDA finalized the draft September 2015 menu labeling guidance. While FDA originally issued a statement indicating the Omnibus Bill extended the compliance date, FDA is clarifying that the compliance date remains December 1, 2016, but, consistent with the Omnibus Bill, FDA will not begin enforcing the final rule until May 5, 2017, which is one year after the date that the Notice of Availability for the final guidance published in the Federal Register.  For more information see: Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements.

Got that?

Really, these are worth waiting for.

Did you really want to eat that 650-calorie muffin?

May 2 2016

At last! Menu labels in 2017!

Wonder of wonders, the FDA at last has issued its Final Guidance on Menu Labeling to go into effect a year from now.

Why astonishment?  New York City has had menu labeling since 2008. The national process started in 2010.

Here’s the chronology:

YEAR DATE ACTION
2010 March 23 President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act which includes a provision requiring chain retail food establishments with 20 or more locations to provide calorie information for standard menu items.
July 7 FDA publishes Federal Register notice soliciting comments and suggestions
Aug 25 FDA requests comments on “Draft Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers Regarding Implementation of the Menu Labeling.”
2011 Jan 25 FDA withdraws draft implementation guidance; announces intent to exercise enforcement discretion until rulemaking process is complete; requests comments.
April 6 FDA issues proposed rule.
May 24 FDA issues document correcting errors in proposed rules; extends comment period.
July 5 FDA issues notice of proposed rulemaking.
2014 Dec 1 FDA issues final rule.
2016 April FDA issues guidance for industry.

Happily, the rules will cover:

bakeries, cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores, delicatessens, food service facilities and concession stands located within entertainment venues (such as amusement parks, bowling alleys, and movie theatres), food service vendors (such as ice cream shops and mall cookie counters), food takeout or delivery establishments (such as pizza takeout and delivery establishments), grocery stores, retail confectionary stores, superstores, quick service restaurants and table service restaurants.

Center for Science in the Public Interest has produced celebratory graphics:

It’s too bad we have to wait yet another year, but menu labels are worth the wait.

The FDA documents:

Jul 10 2015

FDA caves in to lobbying pressures, delays menu labeling

Yesterday, the FDA announced a delay in implementation of menu labeling until December 1, 2016.

Since the FDA issued the menu labeling final rule on December 1, 2014, the agency has had extensive dialogue with chain restaurants, covered grocery stores and other covered businesses, and answered numerous questions on how the rule can be implemented in specific situations. Industry, trade and other associations, including the grocery industry, have asked for an additional year to comply with the menu labeling final rule, beyond the original December 2015 compliance date. The FDA agrees additional time is necessary for the agency to provide further clarifying guidance to help facilitate efficient compliance across all covered businesses and for covered establishments to come into compliance with the final rule. The FDA is extending the compliance date for the menu labeling rule to December 1, 2016, for those covered by the rule.

Here are the relevant Federal Register notices:

Let’s be clear about what’s going on here.  New York City, where I live, has had menu labeling since 2008.  The world has not come to an end.

The Affordable Care Act made menu labeling go national in 2010.  The Supreme Court affirmed that law in 2012.

The seemingly endless delays look like successful lobbying at the expense of consumers and public health.

The New York Times account quotes me on this point:

This is a huge victory for the restaurant lobbyists,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “Food companies must be hoping that if they can delay menu labeling long enough, it will just go away.

The pizza industry, one of the chief lobbying groups on this issue, is pleased by the decision.  Lynn Liddle, Chair of the American Pizza Community sent out this statement yesterday:

FDA’s delay confirms both the serious deficiencies in the final rules and the urgent need for enactment of the bipartisan Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 2017).  Unfortunately, FDA proceeded with an approach to final rules that impose significant compliance costs without achieving any meaningful improvements in consumer education.  After years of uncertainty, FDA still has not addressed basic questions regarding implementation.  The American Pizza Community looks forward to continuing to work with Members of Congress to secure timely passage of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act.

If you can’t get federal agencies to back off on public health, go right to Congress.

The pizza industry had already succeeded in getting this provision in the House Agricultural Appropriations bill:

SEC. 744. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce the final rule entitled ‘‘Food Labeling; Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments’’ published by the Food and Drug Administration in the Federal Register on December 1, 24 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 71156 et seq.) until the later of— (1) December 1, 2016; or (2) the date that is one year after the date on which the Secretary of Health and Human Services publishes Level 1 guidance with respect to nutrition labeling of standard menu items in restaurants and similar retail food establishments.

Although this act is not yet passed and it’s not clear whether this provision would have survived, the FDA got the message (or maybe the White House made sure that it did?).

Menu labels inform the public about the number of calories in the foods they are buying.

The ferocity of lobbying on this idea suggests that restaurant companies would rather you did not have this information.

The FDA, alas, is not helping much on this one.

Jan 22 2015

Seattle menu labeling improves calorie awareness and use

A study just published in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrates some benefits from menu labeling.

In 2009, a year after New York City, Seattle required calorie labeling on the menus of restaurants.  Its evaluation found:

Calorie information awareness and use increased significantly from 2008 to 2010…the proportion who saw and used calorie information tripled, from 8.1% to 24.8%…White, higher income, and obese respondents had greater odds of seeing calorie information….Significant increases in calorie information awareness and use following regulation support the population-wide value of this policy.

As Helena Bottemiller Evich reports in Politico, this is

a finding that gives some hope to the advocates of FDA’s menu labeling final rule, released in November 2014 with a Dec. 1, 2015 implementation date, especially as some industry groups continue to push Congress to narrow the impact of the Affordable Care Act mandate so it doesn’t apply to grocery stores and movie theaters along with restaurant chains.

Menu labeling went national when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010.  It’s taken the FDA this long to get the rules out.

In the meantime, evaluations of New York City’s policies and now Seattle’s continue to show some benefits—at least among people who look at the labeling.

As I keep saying, calorie labeling most definitely affects my menu choices, but I tend to look at such things.

Dec 12 2014

The loss of pleasure caused by menu labeling?

Several readers alerted me to a Reuters article about the FDA’s “lost pleasure” analysis of the effects of the new menu labeling rules.

U.S. health regulators estimate that consumers will suffer up to $5.27 billion in “lost pleasure” over 20 years when calorie counts on restaurant menus discourage people from ordering french fries, brownies and other high-calorie favorites.

The lost-pleasure analysis, which is criticized by some leading economists and public health groups, was tucked into new regulations published last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration…Public health advocates alerted Reuters to the inclusion of the analysis, which they say makes such regulations more vulnerable to challenges by industry because it narrows the gap between the government’s projections of a regulation’s benefits and costs. Amit Narang, an attorney at Public Citizen, said the lost pleasure calculation could help companies or trade groups to challenge the menu rule in court.

I searched the FDA’s Federal Register notice but could not find the word “pleasure” anywhere in it.

No wonder.  I was looking at the wrong document using the wrong search term.

The right document is the FDA’s impact analysis of menu labeling. The correct term is “consumer surplus” (see page 92).

If consumers respond to this information [calorie labels] by reducing consumption there will be a loss in consumer welfare associated with substitution away from certain food…We acknowledge that the reduction in consumer surplus, as a proportion of gross benefits, could range from 0 to 100 percent. Due to limitations in available data regarding the degree to which consumer surplus is lost in the face of consumption changes as a result of menu labeling…we simply adjust gross benefits downward by the midpoint of the range, or 50 percent, uniformly distributed between 10 and 90 percent, and estimate the loss in consumer surplus to range from $2.2 billion to $5.27 billion.

The readers who sent this to me were incredulous that an economic value—in the billions, yet—would be assigned to eating less junk food.

I had heard this before.  Some years ago, I gave a talk on obesity to a conference of agricultural economists.  During the Q and A, I was asked how I accounted for the costs of the loss of pleasure people might feel for not being able to eat so much.

I did not have a good answer to that question then, and I still don’t, other than suggesting that the pleasures of health easily compensate for those costs.

But you have to love the way economists think, no?

Nov 25 2014

At long last menu labeling, and worth the wait!

The FDA released its long-awaited regulations on menu labeling at 12:01 this morning.

The big and most welcome news: the regulations apply across the board to

  • Meals from sit‐down restaurants
  • Foods purchased at drive‐through windows
  • Take‐out food, such as pizza
  • Foods, such as made‐to‐order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
  • Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
  • Muffins at a bakery or coffee shop
  • Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
  • A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice cream store
  • Hot dogs or frozen drinks prepared on site in a convenience or warehouse store
  • Certain alcoholic beverages

The only exceptions: foods from grocery stores or delis that require additional preparation such as deli meats, cheeses, or large deli salads.

Why is this big news?  As I’ve written previously in this space,

  • It’s been more than 4 years since Congress called for menu labels (in the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in 2010)
  • When the FDA first proposed the regs in April 2011, it excluded movie theaters and other places whose primary purpose is not to sell food.
  • It also excluded alcoholic beverages (these are regulated by the Treasury Department)
  • The pizza lobby (yes, there is such a thing–remember “pizza is a vegetable” in school lunches?) fought to be excluded.
  • The National Grocers Association and other retailers who sell prepared foods fought for exclusion.
  • Rumors were that the White House wanted weaker regulations.

Well here they are.

As for the response:

Center for Science in the Interest (CSPI), which has led the menu labeling efforts, is understandably pleased.  Congratulations!

The National Restaurant Association has pressed for national regulations to make the rules consistent across the country.  It says:

We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.

The New York Times reports that the The National Grocers Association said: “We are disappointed that the F.D.A.’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members”

Really?  Lots of people eat at grocery stores these days (think: Whole Foods).

The Washington Post reports that the Food Marketing Institute is also disappointed.

I’m not.  Calorie labeling is an excellent tool for public education.

The regs won’t go into effect for another year or two.

Watch the lobbying begin!

In the meantime, congratulations to the FDA for putting public health first.

 

 

 

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/calorie-counts-coming-to-a-restaurant-movie-theater-vending-machine-near-you/2014/11/24/e5bd25ae-7415-11e4-a5b2-e1217af6b33d_story.html

 

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