Alexander: Senate Democrats Block Common-Sense Bill to Help Restaurants Provide Calorie Counts for Americans

Without this bill, a-21-year-old manager at a Tennessee Chick-fil-A could face criminal and financial penalties if an employee puts extra slices of cheese on a sandwich

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2018 — Senate Democrats today blocked a common-sense bill to help restaurants with more than 20 locations comply with a federal rule that they provide calorie counts for Americans.

“If I’m a 21-year-old manager at the Chick-fil-A in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I would be pretty hesitant to sign a statement, as currently required by the rule, that could subject me to criminal and financial penalties because one of my employees put extra slices of cheese on a sandwich,” Alexander said. “This legislation relieves that worry by limiting these liabilities to the corporate level – not the individual – while maintaining the corporate requirement to certify the nutrient analysis for menu items is complete and accurate.”

When Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, they included a provision mandating nutrition labeling in restaurants and food retailers with over 20 stores nationwide. The proposed rule was published in December 2014 and the final menu labeling rule went into effect on May 7, 2018. The final rule requires restaurants nationwide to display calories on menus and menu boards and have additional nutrition information available upon request.

To make the menu labeling rule more workable for restaurants and to make access to nutrition information easier for customers, the bipartisan Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act was introduced by Senators Blunt and King in the Senate, and a bipartisan group in the House led by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Loretta Sanchez. The bill has passed the House twice, both times with strong bipartisan votes, most recently in February with a vote of 266-157, with 152 Republicans and 32 Democrats in support. After Senate Democrats raised concerns about the House bill, Senator Blunt and Alexander drafted this targeted solution to help give the food industry the certainty and flexibility it needs to implement the rule. 

Alexander added: “While I commend FDA for addressing concerns raised during the process in the final rule, a few significant problems remain unaddressed.”

The substitute amendment introduced by Senators Alexander and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) will:

  1. Clarify legal liability: Would ensure a single employee is not liable for a menu item not matching its posted nutritional content.
  2. Establish a clear timeline for corrective actions: Would clarify restaurants have 30 days to correct violations and if, after 30 days the issue is not resolved, FDA can move forward with enforcement action.
  3. Protect restaurants from frivolous lawsuits for minor violations: This clarifies that if a consumer determines a chicken sandwich labeled as 500 calories is actually 550 calories – the federal, state, or local enforcement authorities can take action, but the bill prevents the consumer from suing the restaurant for damages.
  4. Allow access to nutrition information online: Would allow restaurants with over 75 percent of orders placed online to display nutrition information online where it will be more useful for customers.

“These four provisions were carefully negotiated to address concerns of Democrat members, to ensure Americans will still be able to access nutrition information, and will not delay or stop FDA’s ability to implement or enforce the menu labeling requirements,” Alexander said.

Click here to watch Senator Alexander’s floor speech.