House passes bill easing menu-labeling requirements

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Chain restaurants would have more leeway in meeting federal menu-labeling requirements under a bill that was approved this morning by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, or H.R. 2017, would also protect restaurants from being sued for failing to comply with the final disclosure rules. Establishments found to be in violation would be granted 90 days to fix the infraction before being penalized.

H.R. 2017 amends previously passed legislation that will require units of restaurant chains with more than 20 branches nationwide to disclose certain bits of nutrition information starting Dec. 1. For instance, the bill would allow establishments that collect more than half their sales in takeout or delivery orders to post the nutrition data solely on their websites; the breakdowns would not also have to be posted in the stores.

Places of all types would have more flexibility in how they present the calorie counts for items that feed several customers, such as a pizza, a six-foot-long hero or a birthday cake. The establishments could provide the calorie count for the whole item; the number of suggested servings in the item, along with the calorie count for each if the portions were identical; or the calories for “a common unit division,” such as a slice of pizza or a wedge of pie.

One of the bill’s most important provisions is the clarification of how much common sense should figure into the calculations of nutritional profiles. For instance, not every chicken leg will have exactly the same calories as another leg because of slight variations in size. H.R. 2017 says the “reasonable basis” for computing the information should also take into account inadvertent human error, like an employee hand-forming a burger patty that’s a little larger than the recommended spec.

The bill was passed by a vote of 266-144, indicating that it had bipartisan support. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

The White House has voiced opposition to the bill, but has not indicated whether President Obama would veto it.

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