The Labeling Education and Nutrition, or LEAN Act, is gaining sponsors and votes in the United States congress. The legislation would create a national standard for labeling menu items across the entire food service industry. Consumers overwhelmingly support menu labeling, with some polls showing a 75% majority in favor of nutrition information on menus.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) and its offshoot, the Coalition For Responsible Nutrition Information (CRNI), support the LEAN Act and are lobbying congress for its passage. As more and more municipalities and states have passed menu labeling laws, restaurateurs, and especially national chains, have recognized the need for a national standard that will eliminate the growing patchwork of local laws.
The biggest issue many restaurants have with menu labeling is the complicated and sometimes expensive process of analyzing the nutritional values of menu items. Each ingredient must be separately assessed for its nutritional value, and even slight variations in portions can alter the numbers.
Traditionally, ingredients were analyzed in a laboratory, which usually translated into a lot of time and money to get each ingredient’s nutrition information. Recently, some companies, like MenuCalc, have compiled databases of ingredient nutrition information from USDA labs, eliminating the need for expensive laboratory testing.
No matter what, menu labeling is coming, and restaurants are going to have to deal with that reality. A vote on the LEAN Act is expected during this session of congress, and we could see a national standard for menu labeling by as early as next year.