On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed a national menu labeling law as part of healthcare reform. The federal law requires restaurant chains (and similar retail food providers) with 20 or more outlets to clearly and conspicuously post on all menus and menu boards the number of calories contained in each menu item. The law also requires vending machine operators with at least 20 machines to post calorie information next to each item. NPLAN and its partners have been closely involved in the development of the federal legislation and the state and local laws that brought the issue to national attention.
In April 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued proposed regulations implementing the federal law, with a goal of completing final regulations by the end of 2011. The proposed regulations provide for a six-month implementation period for restaurants and a one-year period for vending machines. That means enforcement of the new federal law could begin in the summer of 2012—though many chains are already posting calorie information.
NPLAN filed comments in July 2011 jointly with the Public Health Law Center addressing how the FDA should (1) support states and localities in enforcing the federal law and developing their own laws; (2) construe the preemptive effect of the federal law narrowly; and (3) reconsider its proposed exclusion of alcoholic beverages from the federal menu labeling requirements. The full set of comments submitted to the FDA are available here.
States and localities with their own menu labeling laws may enforce those laws in the meantime, as long as the state and local laws’ menu labeling requirements are identical to those in the federal law. States and localities are also free to set menu labeling requirements, including requirements that are not identical to the federal law, for single restaurants, restaurant chains and vending machine operators with fewer than 20 units, and any other retail food outlets not covered by the federal law. However, the federal law allows “uncovered” restaurants and vending machine operators to register with the FDA in order to make themselves subject to the federal law and exempt from any non-identical state or local law.
States and localities interested in exploring the effect of the federal law or in enacting or enforcing their own menu labeling legislation are welcome to contact NPLAN staff.