Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A yellow light on voluntary menu labeling

Chain executives will be hyperventilating into brown paper bags next week when the push for menu labeling is taken up again by New York City’s health department—or as some restaurateurs view it, the castle of the mad Dr. Friedan. The agency will invite the public to comment Tuesday on its latest calorie-disclosure proposal, which is widely seen as a possible model for jurisdictions throughout the country. But it’s probably better they copy that measure than reach across the Atlantic for the approach now being pursued in the U.K.

The Food Standards Agency—Britain’s Food and Drug Administration—is pressing McDonald’s, Compass and other multi-restaurant companies to go beyond merely disclosing nutritional information on their menus, according to London press reports. The regulators want the big operations to steer patrons toward more healthful choices, and away from options with high sugar, salt or fat contents, by using stoplight symbol. A green circle, like a “go” light, would designate the best choices. A red circle would send a not-so-subtle message of, “Stop!” And a yellow indicator would be the equivalent of a Larry David-like, “Eh.”

Lest you think the restaurant industry is crying wolf, consider that the alert system is already being voluntarily followed by a number of major supermarket chains across the pond. The foodservice chains are being asked to adopt the program voluntarily, but the esteemed London Telegraph said the present “talks” could build into out-and-out pressure on the operators.

The news reports say that regulators are focusing their sales efforts on quick-service chains because children account for a big portion of their clientele. It’s the argument that the industry has struggled in vain to parry: Adults may be able to make an informed choice about what to eat, but how can you expect children to comprehend nutrition stats as they’re standing in line? Why not just give them a simple symbolic rating of each item?

It’s a powerful argument, and one the industry would no doubt like to bar from these shores.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous steakman said...

Caloric Labeling is inevitable. All we can do is shape the discussion by getting out front and leading. Many consumers are already moving on to the next phase which involve the functional properties of your food including vitamin and mineral content as well as specific health condition diets. The symbol system for kids makes sense.

November 26, 2007 at 10:40 AM  
Anonymous davelory said...

Somehow, as a kid, I made it through years of eating fast food and didn't weigh one pound over my necessary weight. We didn't eat out all of the time, and we certainly didn't eat fast food very often. That being said, I find it heart-breaking almost to think that parents today can't make good choices for their kids.

What happens after labeling? Showing your school ID if you are under 18 so the server can tell you "No, you can't order that...it contacts too many fat grams or too much sodium for your developing body".

When I dine out with my kids, I am very cognizent of what they order, and I tell them no in many cases if I feel it is not the right thing for them. What should happen is a focus on nutrition in schools, so that when adults decide to have kids, they can be armed with the tools to help them make informed decisions, such as what is healthful and what isnt.

Unfortunately we have become a blame society as it relates to child-rearing and many other issues-we blame the teacher for a child not doing their homework, we blame Little League coaches for their kid not being ready for the Major Leagues at 18 yrs old and we blame restaurants for getting their kids fat.

As a lifelong restaurant professional AND a parent, its insulting and a little sad.

February 26, 2008 at 2:18 PM  

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