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Harkin: FDA Takes the First Steps Toward Implementing Menu Labeling; Helping Consumers Make Healthy Choices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released the following statement regarding an announcement made today by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it is opening a docket to solicit comments on how to proceed with the menu labeling requirements in the recently passed health reform bill, The Affordable Care Act

“By opening this docket to comment today, FDA is taking a significant step in our long-fought efforts to provide consumers with nutritional information on the foods and beverages they purchase in chain restaurants and at vending machines,” said Harkin.  “I have long said that it makes no sense that consumers can find nutritional information on almost anything they purchase at the grocery store, but are left clueless when it comes time to go out for a meal.  The menu labeling provision of The Affordable Care Act will finally change this discrepancy.  It is my hope that this comment period will offer useful information to make this provision as effective as possible to help consumers while at the same time not putting an undue burden on businesses.

“This menu labeling requirement is one of the many important provisions of The Affordable Care Act that will help make the healthy choice, the easy choice.  This is a significant part of our efforts to rein in health care costs and improve the overall well being of our nation by moving to a true wellness society.  I am pleased to see our efforts in the health reform bill come to fruition and look forward to the many benefits they will continue provide down the road.”

This menu labeling provision in The Affordable Care Act represents a compromise between the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, sponsored by Senator Harkin, and the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act, sponsored by Senators Carper and Murkowski.  Under the terms of the compromise, a restaurant that is part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name (other restaurants are exempt) would be required to disclose calories on the menu board and in a written form, available to customers upon request, additional nutrition information pertaining to total calories and calories from fat, as well as amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber, and protein.  It will also require vending machine operators that own or operate 20 or more vending machines to disclose calorie content information for certain articles of food sold from vending machines.  FDA is establishing this docket today to provide an opportunity for interested parties to submit data and other information relevant to the implementation of this section of the health reform bill.

Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, crafted the Prevention and Public Health title of The Affordable Care Act.  More information on this title can be found here.  Harkin has also been a leader in efforts to invest in prevention and wellness for over a decade and on efforts to fight childhood obesity.  Information on these efforts can be found here.