by Marion Nestle
Jul 30 2012

Pizza chains want easier (or no) menu labeling

Now that the Supreme Court says that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, it’s time to get those pesky menu labeling regulations in place.  That Act, you may recall, included a provision to take menu labeling national.

Late in May, Nation’s Restaurant News reported that pizza restaurant chains were banding together to fight FDA’s forthcoming menu-labeling regulations.

The American Pizza Community (TAPC) represents chains like Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s Pizza, Little Caesar Enterprises, the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association, Hungry Howie’s and Godfather’s Pizza.

TAPC members want alternatives for menu labeling that “would work for pizza.”

When there are 34 million ways to top a pizza just at Domino’s, it’s easy to understand how the one-size-fits-all situation currently proposed doesn’t work for pizza.

On June 4, Food Chemical News said the pizza industry would be asking Congress for an exemption from the menu labeling final rule.

Two days later, TAPC denied that charge.

On June 19, the Washington Post reported that TAPC met with congressional representatives to push for changes to the menu labeling plan.  What kind of changes?  Could they include exemptions?  Not clear.

TAPC is getting somewhere.  Congressman John Carter (R-TX) has just introduced a bill to weaken the national menu labeling law.  This would exempt supermarkets and convenience stores from having to post calorie information on prepared foods, gives a break to pizza, and allows calories to be listed by serving size.

Also in the meantime, Food Chemical News says the House Appropriations subcommittee told the FDA to narrow the focus of its menu labeling rule.  Translation: leave out movie theaters and, maybe, pizza.

I happen to love pizza, but it is unquestionably a major source of calories in American diets.  A slice of a big thick pizza can easily run 1000 calories.  I’d like to think that some pizza eaters might find that information useful.

I think pizza places should label calories—really, they can figure out how to do it—and that’s what I told  CBS TV on June 20.

Margo Wootan at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has an op-ed in The Hill with a good summary of the reasons why menu labeling needs to get moving.  If you agree, CSPI has a model letter you can quickly send to the President, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the FDA’s parent agency), and the FDA.

What’s holding up the regs?  First, the Supreme Court, but that’s no longer an excuse.  The upcoming election maybe?  That’s no excuse either.

  • Nancy Huehnergarth

    Reality check for pizza chains.

    Pizza chains are already labeling calories easily and successfully in a number of locales including NYC and several counties in NYS where menu labeling is the law. There has been no report of any chain pizza outlet going out of business or suffering any kind of financial disadvantage because of the menu labeling requirement.

    The pizza community’s argument that menu labeling is too costly for them and puts them at a competitive disadvantage is extremely weak, at best. Customers deserve calorie information, at point of purchase, on all chain restaurant menus, menu boards and online menus. Big Pizza shouldn’t get a pass because they are lobbying ferociously.

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  • Anthro

    I am eternally grateful that I do not particularly like pizza–not the kind you get at a chain store anyway. But with the prevalence of it in the average American diet, it is absurd to exclude it from calorie labeling. I agree with Nancy, above, wholeheartedly.

    I just finished a three week road trip and will mention that nowhere did I come across smaller portions or healthy food away from the coast (west). Donuts have become MONSTER size. Some maple bars are nearly a foot long! There were no tiny (lunch size) packages of chips anywhere–rather, many were touting “NEW, LARGER SIZE!”. I don’t think any of this will come under the new regulations. Not sure about the deli food, though.

    Fruit, when available, was of very poor quality and not at all appetizing. I resisted and spent extra time to find actual grocery stores where there was at least a bit of decent produce–among the consistently awful (and grossly fatty) “deli” food.

    I took 90% of my food with me in my little trailer and that worked very well. I usually treat myself to a couple of donuts on a road trip, but am happy to say that I passed on the monster versions–and told them so (which only seemed to amaze them as I’m pretty sure I’m the only one ever to complain).

  • The pizza place that I like has Cals/pizza available on its website, it seems the 2 slices I eat has about 1000 Cals. Not awful for a splurge meal, but not every day food. I try to deal with this by eating leftovers for breakfast, or early in the day, because I’ll be full enough to skip the next meal (or two).

    I feel that it’s always better (though not always comfortable) to know. I have only eaten at chain restaurants twice since they started this new CA law, and I almost fell out of my chair at some of the counts. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll change my choice (though I might, if I was eating something that I mistakenly thought was lighter), but it might impact the rest of the day’s eating.

    Since i’ve really enforced not eating again until hungry, heavy food is okay, as long as I don’t have to participate in more eating occasions. If I have a dinner planned, lunch has to be small/light enough that I can eat again, otherwise I gain weight. It doesn’t work so well for heavy dinners/no breakfast, so I try to eat light dinners.

  • Jen Oslund

    It’s not the labeling that is the problem…it’s the product….maybe they should start working on that ;D

  • Wow. It’s ridiculous that pizza companies think they should be entitled to continue hiding the truth about its products. From calling it a vegetable in school cafeterias to this….You’re right–we’ve got to get a move on labeling!

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