As grocers, restaurants bicker, many menus still lack calorie counts

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Three years after Congress voted to require it, you still won’t find calories listed on the menus of most restaurant chains.

The problem? The federal government has yet to write the specific rules to carry out the law, in part because supermarkets are balking at it.

“It does make you wonder, why all this procrastination?” Orlando, Fla., dietitian Jo Lichten said. “Research shows people want to have the nutrition information. They make better choices when they have the numbers.”

The Food and Drug Administration hopes to have the regulations in place later this year. Restaurants would likely have six months from then to comply.

“We received a lot of comments, and we’re still just going through them, taking them into consideration,” FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said.

A big sticking point has been a fight over whether to require calorie counts for supermarket-made foods such as rotisserie chicken and sandwiches. Grocers seeking an exemption include Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets, according to federal lobbying records.

The company would not comment, referring questions to Food Marketing Institute, an industry trade group.

Posting calories would cost grocers about $1 billion in the first year alone, said Erik Lieberman, a Food Marketing Institute attorney. He said that’s because supermarkets would have more prepared foods to analyze than restaurants have menu items.

And the regulations are expected to include fruit salads and baked goods such as loaves of bread and whole pies, which consumers generally don’t eat in one sitting as they do restaurant food.

Packaged products on supermarket shelves already are required to provide nutritional labels.

But the National Restaurant Association and health-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which negotiated the menu-labeling law, say adding supermarkets’ prepared foods is necessary to level the playing field.

“Increasingly, people are picking up prepared dinners, sandwiches, salads and bakery items at grocers or convenience stores in place of takeout at restaurants,” said Margo Wootan, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s nutrition-policy director. “So it’s only fair, businesswise.”

Grocers back a bill called the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2013 (H.R. 1249), introduced in March by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. It requires nutrition labeling only for businesses that get most of their sales from prepared meals.

Some pizza chains, including Domino’s, Papa John’s and Little Caesars, support that legislation, too, because it would also allow takeout places to post information online rather than on menu boards. be listed per individual serving.

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