The movement to accurately label menu items with nutrition information is gaining ground at a remarkable pace. In 2008, the state of California, the cities of New York and Philadelphia, and two counties in Washington and Oregon passed legislation requiring restaurants to provide nutrition information to their customers.
20 more cities, counties, and states currently have similar laws on their dockets.
Studies have shown that 75% of consumers favor mandatory menu labeling in food service establishments. Consumers are already familiar with nutrition labeling since it became standard on food products, and most want the same information when they dine out.
Critics cite the cost of analyzing menu items for their nutritional content as being prohibitively expensive for most small and mid-size food service businesses.
They also say menu variety will disappear because once a recipe is analyzed for its content, it cannot be changed even slightly since this will alter nutrition information.
However, the NRAsupports menu labeling legislation, but has chosen to lobby for a national bill that will preempt the growing patchwork of local and state laws regulating menu labeling and set a single national standard for menu labeling.
The Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act was introduced in 2008 and sets a national standard for restaurant menu labeling. It is supported by the NRA and the Coalition for Responsible Nutrition Information (CRNI), an NRA-led advocacy group. LEAN is currently in front of Congress and awaits a vote.
As restaurants in places like California begin the process of evaluating their menu nutrition information, a new industry has sprung up around nutrition.
One of those companies is MenuCalc, a San Francisco based organization that has compiled a huge database of laboratory analyses of common food ingredients. Restaurateurs can use this information, which is accessible through the web, to create their own menu nutrition data.
No matter what, menu labeling is probably a trend in the food service industry that is beyond the point of no return.
It’s likely that in 10 years nutrition information will be as common on menus as Nutrition Facts labels are on food products today, and that leaves restaurateurs two choices:
Analyze and post nutrition information for their menu items today, or put it off for tomorrow.