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Congressman John Carter (R-Texas) was joined this afternoon by fellow Texas representatives, Congressmen Henry Cuellar (D) and Ruben Hinojosa (D), at a press conference to introduce the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2012. Representatives from the convenience store, grocery and pizza industries, as well as small business owners, joined the bi-partisan contingent to show their support.
In addition to the three Texas legislators, a bipartisan mix of House members from Washington State, Arkansas, California, Wisconsin, Utah and Missouri, Georgia and Ohio are backing the legislation.
The proposed bill is in response to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulations regarding calorie labeling on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants and food establishments, and on vending machines. Currently, FDA rules require any chain with 20 or more locations under the same banner -- and whose primary business is selling food -- to display calorie counts on menus and menu boards for all prepared and packaged food items for sale. The rules apply to locations where 50 percent or more of the floor space is dedicated to selling food, as CSNews Online previously reported.
The FDA regulations -- released in 2011 -- are part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), signed into law in March 2010. It includes a provision that calls for a national, uniform nutrition-disclosure standard for foodservice establishments.
The issue has been a main sticking point for NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, and was an area of focus of the 2012 NACS Day on Capitol Hill. The March event saw hundreds of c-store retailers from across the country voice their opposition to menu labeling rules directly to their representatives in Washington, D.C.
During today’s Capitol Hill press conference announcing the new legislation, Norfolk, Va.-based Miller Oil Co. President Jeff Miller said, “This legislation will allow the [FDA] to satisfy Congress' objectives without unnecessarily burdening most convenience stores."
The new bipartisan legislation calls for a less burdensome approach to menu labeling and includes language addressing the types of retail location that are covered by the federal requirements. Specifically, the legislation limits the provision in Section 4205 of PPACA to establishments that derive 50 percent or more of their revenue from food that is intended for immediate consumption or prepared and processed on-site. Pre-packaged food would not be considered in this equation. Given that last year, 17 percent of convenience stores' in-store revenue dollars were derived from pre-packaged food, according to NACS State of the Industry data, most convenience stores would be exempt under the new legislation, the association said.
For those convenience stores that would be covered by the federal menu labeling requirements, they would have more flexibility with compliance under the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act. Retailers could select from several approaches in providing calorie information. For example, pizza sellers could provide calories per slice or for the whole pizza. The legislation also would allow retailers more flexibility in providing calorie ranges as opposed to a specific number, which is often more difficult to define with made-to-order food.
"Convenience stores and their food offerings vary greatly -- even those like mine that are part of the same chain -- based largely on their location and customer base,” said Miller, who served as the 2011 NACS chairman. “This legislation provides retailers with the flexibility they need to communicate calorie nutrition information. More important, it sets realistic requirements for how businesses are classified under these regulations.
"This legislation would allow FDA to meet the objectives of the menu-labeling law without unnecessarily burdening retailers that rightfully should be outside of its scope," he added.
The National Grocers Association (NGA) also opposes the regulations as they stand now and are in full support of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act.
"NGA commends Rep. Carter for his leadership to ensure that the FDA does not exceed its authority under the statute by expanding this provision beyond chain restaurants," NGA President and CEO Peter J. Larkin said in a statement. "This legislation will ensure independent retail grocers are not subjected to millions of dollars in new and unnecessary expenses and administrative burdens because of regulatory overreach. NGA's members are focused on growing their businesses and creating jobs at a time when our country desperately needs both. This bill will ensure that the FDA adheres to Congress' original intent, which did not include grocery stores."