Watchdog Groups Sue FDA Over Menu Labeling Delay

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the National Consumers League have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., challenging the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) decision to delay a rule requiring chain restaurants and "similar retail food establishments," including convenience stores, to post calorie counts for prepared food and beverages.

The federal menu labeling requirements were included as part of the healthcare reform law known as "Obamacare." FDA finalized regulations implementing that law in December 2014, but has repeatedly delayed the rule's effective date because of unforeseen complexities and concern expressed by the restaurant community, particularly small format food retailers such as convenience stores, as well as supermarkets and pizza delivery companies.

The rule was most recently scheduled to take effect on May 5, 2017, but on May 4 FDA announced that it was further delaying the rule's effective date by one year, and soliciting public comments as to whether, and how, the agency should re-evaluate the rule's requirements.

This most recent delay is the subject of the recently filed lawsuit. In their complaint, the watchdog groups say that FDA did not have legal authority to delay the rule.

NATSO supported the FDA's decision to delay the rule's effective date, and will be filing formal comments with the agency as to how the rule can be improved. NATSO's members are not looking for an "exemption" from the menu labeling rule, but rather narrowly tailored revisions that enable them to comply with it in a manner that is less burdensome without compromising consumers' access to nutrition information.

"Unlike traditional chain restaurants, travel centers -- both in their convenience stores as well as their company-operated restaurant operations -- offer customers different food options in different regions of the country," said David Fialkov, NATSO's Vice President of Government Affairs. "As currently written, the FDA's menu labeling regulations would make it exceedingly difficult for this type of business model to persist, and would push companies to only offer uniform offerings throughout their various locations. This is not in their customers' best interest."

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