Food and Drug Administration Want to Force You to Know How Many Calories You Eat

Common sense is increasingly becoming a rarity, especially in Washington, D.C. A little known provision in the president’s healthcare law would be a small business compliance nightmare. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is attempting to push through a rule that would impose a heavy burden on grocery stores, restaurants and retail food establishments. The proposed rule would set strict menu labeling requirements that would have to include calorie and nutritional information. Furthermore, the rule is projected to cost $9 million over fiscal years 2016-2021.

While large business may be able to more easily absorb the costs of this onerous new rule, it would also affect small business franchises that operate independently from the corporate headquarters. The rule would also apply to some convenience stores, chains and even delivery services. Additionally, there seems to have been little thought given to how difficult and expensive it would be to provide this type of detailed nutritional information for customizable items like pizzas or burritos. Meeting these burdensome requirements will inevitably lead to mistakes, which could result in criminal penalties for businesses found in violation, let alone increased civil liability for hungry trial lawyers.

Fortunately, Congress is considering legislation, the “Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act”, that would ease these costly menu labeling requirements and give restaurants and other food retailers some much-needed flexibility. If adopted, it would give these businesses control over how their nutritional information is reported. For example, for customizable items, an average or a range could be used in describing the nutritional information. For restaurants with the majority of their orders placed offsite, they would be allowed to display nutritional information online. The legislation would also allow any business found in violation of the FDA menu labeling rules 90 days to fix the problem. Finally, it would ensure restaurants or food retailers could not be liable in a federal or state civil suit for any alleged violations of the ruling.

Solutions like these, which provide for a greater amount of regulatory flexibility, mitigate the negative consequences of overly burdensome regulation. Granting restaurants and food retailers this type of flexibility will encourage entrepreneurs, ensure that consumers are able to enjoy a wider selection, and help to keep food prices lower. When businesses are granted flexibility, everyone wins.

Crossposted at www.alec.org.

Ben Wilterdink is director of Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council.