Will menu-labeling requirements be delayed — again?
It seems seven years wasn't enough time for members of The National Association of Convenience Stores and the National Grocers Association to become compliant with the federal menu-labeling requirements scheduled to take effect May 5. Earlier this month, the organizations submitted an interim final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget asking for a delay of the ruling passed in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act requiring restaurants and "similar retail food establishments" with 20 or more units to display nutritional information on menus.
As of press time, the FDA had not published any information regarding a delay, but the NACS said in a company press release that it expects to see the final ruling about the delay later today. The limbo status is causing confusing, according to the National Restaurant Association, which released a statement Thursday, saying it was receiving conflicting messages about the delay.
"Any potential delay calls into question the validity of federal preemption and whether state and local governments can begin enforcement," it said. "We have been in ongoing conversations with the White House and Office and Management and Budget all day, ( Thursday) and the conversations are continuing this evening. In a meeting with White House officials this afternoon, President and CEO Dawn Sweeney underscored the seriousness of this issue for our members."
NACS maintains that the regulations do not account for the varying approaches to foodservice between big-chain restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores and delivery operations such as pizza chains.
"The FDA's regulations add unfair costs and compliance barriers to establishments with offerings that do not appear on a centralized 'menu' board, and establishments that may have multiple coffee, frozen drink and food islands as opposed to the central ordering point in a traditional fast-food restaurant," the group said in its release. "The regulations also place a store or restaurant at risk for criminal penalties if it gives some customers larger servings than they expected based on the calorie information provided."
The National Restaurant Association disagrees, saying in a statement that it cautions against any actions that would delay implementation of the menu labeling law.
"Previously, menu labeling laws were being passed on a state-by-state or city-by-city basis and in some cases, counties were competing with cities to pass similar laws," said Cicely Simpson, EVP of government affairs and policy. "If the federal standard is repealed, we will once again return to this patchwork approach that will be even more burdensome for restaurants to implement and will not have the legal safeguards included in the federal law. We must protect small businesses by not delaying implementation of this important rule."
Betsy Craig, CEO fo MenuTrinFo, a company that specialized in menu labeling, said a delay is terrible for the restaurant industry.
"Restaurants of all shapes and sizes have spent the last few years, a great deal of time and expense to get ready for this one uniform menu labeling solution," she said. "We will go back to the patchwork of laws, which is hard for the brands as the rules vary by zip code and hard for consumer thanks to confusion."
Talks of a delay are also causing confusion among operators.
"(We) are chasing the FDA across the US in public meeting to get our clients' questions answered and clarified so we get the challenges, Craig said. " However, we are ready. Let's do this, and fine tune the problems from here."
Cherryh Cansler Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com. www