No matter how one feels about the Trump administration’s policies, one thing is clear: Business always benefits one way or another from certainty. Witness the White House’s decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement and the confusion it has created. Some industry groups may support the decision, others, as global operators, will continue to mitigate climate emissions and still others will decide to step up their climate action efforts in turn.
Similar confusion has stemmed from the Food and Drug Administration’s 11th hour delay of a rule that would require restaurant chains to reveal the number of calories in their menu items. The rule was one legacy of former First Lady Michelle Obama, who spent much of her time in the White House fighting against public health challenges such as the U.S. obesity epidemic. Critics have charged that Trump’s swipe at Obama’s healthy lifestyle initiatives, such as improving school lunches, is just one example of how the White House is determined to eliminate any trace of the previous administration’s fingerprints from the federal government. Obama’s activism, however, already nudged some “big food” companies to change their food labeling.
The Trump Administration claims that the rollback removes regulatory burdens. The problem, however, is that the rule was canceled just four days before it was supposed to be implemented – after companies spent weeks, months, or even years on new labeling requirements. “Now what’s left is a hodgepodge of inconsistent menu labeling that’s confusing for consumers,” summed up Politico.
While pizza companies, convenience stores and grocers have pushed back at calorie-counting disclosure requirements, restaurants in general have been supportive a federal standard, arguing that it would replace the complicated patchwork of state and local regulations.
Meanwhile, health advocacy groups have been furious at the administration’s attempt to scale back calorie disclosure rules. The American Heart Association has supported the public disclosure of calorie information, saying it can help people “know their energy” needs as a tool in their kit to prevent obesity and heart disease. “Rather than delaying these requirements, the FDA should focus on putting the power of decision making in consumers’ hands,” said the association’s CEO Nancy Brown.
Academic studies have also suggested that knowledge of caloric and nutritional information can help parents impart better food choices to their children. “More salt, less nutrition info,” concluded National Public Radio in a recent analysis of the Trump Administration’s food policy.
Meanwhile, more local governments are ramping up efforts to make calorie counts mandatory on restaurant menus. New York City is one municipality that will forge its own path with a rule stating that any restaurant chain with 15 or more locations nationwide must disclose not only calories, but full nutritional information, on its menus. The city’s health department was ordered to enforce those rules starting on May 22. The result is inconsistent menu labeling across the U.S., which piles onto the confusion the national restaurant industry would like to avoid in the first place.
To the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), menu labeling should not be a partisan issue. “Republicans are just as likely as Democrats to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related health problems,” said CSPI’s nutrition policy director Margo Wootan last month in a public statement. “Yet the Trump Administration is myopically putting Big Food’s interests over the interests of American consumers.”
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