House Panel OKs Common Sense Menu-Labeling Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a bipartisan vote of 39 to 14, a U.S. House of Representatives panel gave the go-ahead to H.R. 772, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2017.

Reintroduced in February by U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Angus King (I-Maine), H.R. 772 is intended to provide a more practical and flexible approach to the current regulations, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) planned to begin enforcing on May 5.

However, the agency delayed final adherence for the bill in April.

During the House Energy & Commerce Committee's consideration of the legislation, McMorris-Rodgers and Cardenas explained that the issue is not whether caloric disclosure should be required, but how that disclosure takes place. McMorris-Rodgers urged that the FDA's menu labeling regulations are a one-size-fits-all approach and create a costly use of retailers' time to comply, reported NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.

"When the FDA announced its final rule implementing a national menu labeling standard in 2014, the intent was twofold: deliver customers increased access to nutrition information; and establish a single, uniform national standard. However, in trying to create a uniform standard, the FDA's 400-page rule attempts a one-size-fits-all approach to an industry as diverse as its ingredients," urged McMorris-Rodgers.

The current legislation is problematic for two reasons, according to the lawmaker. For one, the "made-to-order" portion of the food industry offers endless, constantly changing combinations of ingredients, therefore it's an "unrealistic use of these business owners' time" to have to put on paper all of the variations and calorie counts for ingredients. Secondly, nearly 90 percent of orders in some restaurants are made digitally, so customers never have to step foot in a brick-and-mortar store, therefore rendering it senseless for physical calorie counts to be posted in-store.

During the July 27 vote, two amendments were offered for H.R. 772:

1. The bill's sponsors suggested shortening the required compliance timeline, so the FDA would have more flexibility in enforcing the new rule that would be drafted under new legislation. This amendment was accepted by a voice vote of the committee.

2. The second amendment, offered by Rep. Kurt Schrader (R-Ore.), would have stricken the provisions of the bill that would allow establishments who received greater than 50 percent of their orders remotely (i.e. pizza delivery chains) to post the required caloric disclosure remotely, such as on a website. That amendment failed in a 33-19 vote.

According to NACS, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act maintains but modifies the FDA's menu-labeling regulations, allowing businesses to provide nutritional information to customers in a more practical format. It also protects small businesses from "overly burdensome" costs and penalties, and removes the possibility of criminal penalties.

The House's amended bill now awaits consideration by the full House of Representatives. NACS said it hopes that the House will consider the legislation in September after Congress returns from the August district work period. Similar legislation was passed by the House in 2016, but was not considered by the Senate before the end of the legislative session. 

Senate sponsors of the legislation are looking for ways to move the bill, but the chamber is currently occupied with action related to the health care legislation.