On Thursday, FDA announced that it will extend the deadline for when certain food establishments must comply with a rule that requires them to display calorie counts on their menus, the Washington Post's "To Your Health" reports (Dennis, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/9).
FDA in November 2014 announced new rules that require restaurants to place calorie counts on their menus. The rules, which were called for under the Affordable Care Act, apply to restaurants with at least 20 locations, as well as vending machines, amusement parks, movie theaters and prepared foods in grocery and convenience stores intended to feed one individual. The regulations consist of two sets of rules, one that applies to vending machines and another that applies to restaurants and similar retail establishments, including grocery stores. The restaurant lobby supported applying the laws to the grocery store industry, which opposed having to meet the requirements (California Healthline, 11/25/14).
When FDA released the rules, establishments had until December 2015 to meet the calorie count display requirements ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/9).
FDA said food establishments will now have until Dec. 1, 2016, to comply with the rule (Howell, Washington Times, 7/9).
FDA said it received several requests from industry groups to delay the compliance date. According to FDA, industry officials noted a need for time to develop systems for accurate nutrition labeling and pointed to the effort and time they would need to install menu boards and teach staff about the new requirements.
Further, several lawmakers, including some who strongly favored the labeling rules, earlier this year called for FDA to delay the compliance date ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/9). Many supporters of the rule noted that FDA had not yet released key guidance about the rule with fewer than six months until the original deadline.
FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor said the agency "agrees additional time is necessary for the agency to provide further clarifying guidance to help facilitate efficient compliance across all covered businesses." He noted that the deadline extension decision followed "extensive dialogue" with affected industry groups (Tavernise, New York Times, 7/9).
FDA plans to release additional guidance in August to address commonly asked questions from industry. Taylor said FDA "will work flexibly and collaboratively with individual companies making a good-faith effort to comply with the law" (Gasparro, Wall Street Journal, 7/9).
National Restaurant CEO Dawn Sweeney said that the rule "makes good sense for the industry" and noted that "some of our members are ready to implement [the] menu labeling while others still need more time" (New York Times, 7/9).
Center for Science in the Public Interest Director of Nutrition Policy Margo Wootan said, "[W]e wish there wasn't the need for the delay, but given the level of guidance required, there's no way around it" (Wall Street Journal, 7/9).
Meanwhile, critics said that the extension would allow more time for industry to lobby against the measure.
Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University said, "This is a huge victory for the restaurant lobbyists," adding, "Food companies must be hoping that if they can delay menu labeling long enough, it will just go away" (New York Times, 7/9).
Noting that New York City instituted menu labeling requirements in 2008, Nestle said, "It really takes six years to figure out how to do something that was done in New York City in 2008?" ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/9).
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in a statement said she was "dismayed" by the extension. "It takes time to change signage, packaging and data systems. I understand that," DeLauro said, adding, "But ultimately we need to make sure consumers have nutrition information available to them when making purchasing decisions" (Washington Times, 7/9).