Menu Labeling Legislation

Nutrition Labels menu labeling

I wonder if any of the jurisdictions that have passed or are considering passing menu labeling legislation have read a piece reported by United Press International.

Fred G. Sampson
Fred G. Sampson

“University of Vermont researchers found significant numbers of people do not look at food labels and many are unable to use the information the labels contain. Telephone surveys of more than 600 U.S. adults and more than 300 college students found that ‘approximately half of the surveyed college students and one-third of the individuals in the community sample reported that they did not generally look at food labels,’ according to the researchers.

“The surveys also found two-thirds of the participants were unable to identify the number of calories they should be consuming each day, and 44 percent to 57 percent of the combined sample ‘self-reported that they would not likely use restaurant food caloric information,’ the researchers said. The findings, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggest legislation for nutrition and calorie labeling on menus ‘may not be particularly effective in combating the obesity epidemic if people are not looking at existing food labels and are not able to use this information for nutrition planning.’ ”

Please note that neither the surveys nor the reporting of them was associated with a commercial food company or trade group, which enhances their nonpartisan credibility. Also note that the participants were adults and college students, groups that seemingly would be more concerned about the surveys’ subject matter; obviously, they were not. The food and menu police will not accept the concept that most consumers are more aware of what is going on in the world than the social engineers give them credit for. The food police display an attitude that borders on arrogance. Simply put, they don’t trust the public’s judgment.

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As a shining example of this analysis, I offer the following from the best seller, The Death of Common Sense, by Philip K. Howard, a practicing attorney. This quote from the book is attributed to John Guare: “Law began infiltrating the nooks and crannies of our lives in the 1960s, crowding out our common sense. Rules replaced thinking. Process replaced responsibility. One false idea lay at the bottom of these developments: that human judgment should be banned from anything to do with law. We fell for the idea that all could be laid out in a tidy legal system where decisions were predetermined, social choices premade.”

The premise of the book is to make a case for the use of common sense and human judgment in the development of laws and their regulation, an ingredient sadly lacking today.

In every instance, the labeling bills that have been introduced or are pending are aimed at the quick-service restaurants and, to the best of my knowledge; every one of them has offered the same nutritional information voluntarily.

You will recall that in the UPI story discussed at the top of this piece, up to 57 percent of the combined sample “self-reported that they would not likely use restaurant food caloric information.” The findings published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggest that legislation for nutrition and caloric labeling on menus “may not be particularly effective in combating the obesity epidemic if people are not looking at existing food labels and are not using this information for nutrition planning.”

I try hard not to be redundant when putting together these monthly commentaries. However, I must repeat the following: I, like most consumers, want to know—and appreciate—being informed about many of the products and services that could affect my well being. How I use that information should be up to me, and this mental exercise is called judgment.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) agenda includes menu labeling for full-service establishments. As Bob Barr, writing in the Washington Times in September 2006, stated: “Its [CSPI’s] sworn enemies are fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and calories in general.” Restaurant menu ingredients are their target.

Fred G. Sampson is the retired President Emeritus of the New York State Restaurant Association. He began working with NYSRA in 1961. Within the next four years the NYSRA more than tripled its membership and expanded from one regional chapter to eight. Sampson played roles in representing restaurants on issues including paid sick leave, minimum wage, liquor laws, a state-wide alcohol training program and insurance plans. Comments may be sent to fredgsampson@juno.com