Friday, June 12, 2009

Calorie counts not on the menu for Tennessee House

Law would overrule Metro health board By Colby Sledge • THE TENNESSEAN • June 12, 2009 A requirement to post calorie information on menus in Davidson County restaurants likely will be overturned by a state proposal passed in the House on Thursday. triggerAd(1,PaginationPage,10); The bill would make it illegal for non-elected boards to require that nutritional information be posted at restaurants. The Metro Board of Health passed such a rule earlier this year, with the first phase of the requirement scheduled to take effect next spring. Supporters of posting the information on menus say it could help combat obesity, especially if parents knew more about what they were ordering for their children. "Even if it's just one factor, it's a factor we can do something about without spending any tax dollars," said Dr. Ruth Stewart, a family physician at Meharry and vice chair of the Metro health board. Opponents of the menu-labeling requirements say it's difficult for small restaurants owners who receive the same types of food from multiple suppliers to continually determine and update calorie information. "Our customers want it, and we've never been interested in keeping it from them," said Dan Haskell, lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association. "It's just not the easiest thing to know what's in that bowl of macaroni and cheese." Changing and reprinting menus also would put an economic burden on businesses, which could then be passed down to consumers, said Mt. Juliet Republican Susan Lynn, the House sponsor. The gastrointestinal impact of calorie information on consumers is up for debate. Margrey Thompson, 54, of Murfreesboro, monitored the menu carefully before choosing her salad at the Panera Bread on West End Avenue, where calorie information is posted on all menu items. "Every day I plan my calories. I know how many calories I'm going to eat in a day," Thompson said. "I need to know that when I go out, I can make a quick judgment." Thompson's daughter Molly, 14, said she also usually paid attention to calorie information, pointing to her zero-calorie soft drink. But her sandwich choice of the day had nothing to do with counting calories: "I just felt like it." Data could be posted Under the state proposal, elected bodies like the Metro Council could still vote to require restaurants to post calorie information. Earlier this year the council moved to override the health board's decision to require the information. The bill passed the first of three votes 15-14, but was then deferred indefinitely as both sides decided to wait for state and/or federal action. Federal legislation could render moot much of the discussion, as Congress considers a proposal to require national chains with 20 or more restaurants to post the information. Restaurant lobbying groups support the legislation, as do members of both parties. Gov. Phil Bredesen offered a similar bill earlier this year, but the proposal went nowhere. Councilman Erik Cole of East Nashville, who supports requiring restaurants posting the calorie information, said he wanted to see what happened in Congress before pressing for action in the council. "To me it doesn't matter where it comes from, just as long as we can get what I think is important consumer information in the hands of consumers," Cole said. The House version of the bill that passed Thursday was changed slightly, meaning it will have to go back to the Senate, where it was previously approved. It is expected to pass and go on to Bredesen.

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