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NRA to test nutrition disclosure program

The National Restaurant Association plans to test a nutrition-marketing plan aimed at meeting the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's recommendation that the industry develop its own method for disclosing dietary information.

In its current form, the initiative would allow NRA members to post a certificate or other form of recognition within their restaurants if they meet any of three criteria. A place would either have to provide nutritional information about the products it sells; offer nutritional booklets detailing the three-point healthy-lifestyles program already put forth by the NRA, or the FDA's new food pyramid after it's released next year; or highlight lighter items on the menu.

The approach harkens back to ServSafe, the food-safety program that the NRA's Educational Foundation put forth more than a decade ago as a way of pre-empting food-safety-training mandates. Foodservice operators who undergo ServSafe training and then pass a test are presented with decals they can post in their restaurants to tout their safety know-how. At the time the process was developed, many states and local governments were considering laws and regulations that would have forced restaurants to secure safety instruction for food handlers. Some jurisdictions did mandate that schooling, but now accept ServSafe certification as a form of compliance.

In March, the FDA's Obesity Working Group released several recommendations aimed at combating the nation's collective weight problem. Among them was a call for the restaurant industry to craft a voluntary program for letting customers know the dietary impact of what's on an establishment's menu. At the time, acting FDA commissioner Dr. Lester Crawford remarked that labeling requirements might be imposed if the trade failed to act on its own.

The NRA drafted its program after consulting with members from restaurant chains, which have been the targets of the labeling mandates already being considered in the U.S. Congress and a number of statehouses. The NRA's plan has already been presented to a number of "opinion makers" who could influence the progress of those legislative proposals, said Lee Culpepper, the association's SVP of government affairs and public policy.

"Now we plan to do some consumer testing, and after that, we'll probably go back to our chain members for any refinements," he said.

Culpepper stressed that the plan is in an initial stage, and could change before it's aired to the NRA's general membership or the FDA.

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