WASHINGTON — In comments filed this week regarding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's draft menu-labeling regulations, the National Restaurant Association has argued that the FDA should employ a broader definition of "similar retail food establishments" and "restaurant-like" operations and treat all of these businesses the same under the planned law.
The law will require all restaurant chains with at least 20 locations to provide detailed nutrition information to customers and post calorie information on menus, menu boards and drive thru menus. If the FDA accepts the association's suggestion, supermarket delis, bakeries and prepared food departments would be subject to compliance.
Specifically, the association stated that the FDA's current definition excludes convenience store chains with foodservice operations, "retail food establishments within large retail establishments," movie theaters, and other retail food businesses that could claim exemption via a variety of loopholes.
"Excluding these and other regular away-from-home dining experiences from calorie labeling leaves a large swath of regular retail food consumption experiences unregulated, which is confusing for consumers and inconsistent with the purpose of the Act," the NRA argued.
The association has proposed that the FDA adopt a definition outlined in earlier guidance documents, in which any establishment that sells food intended for immediate consumption, on- or off-premise, would be subject to the law.
This definition would include "facilities in grocery stores including in-store cafes, food courts, bakeries, salad bars, pizza bars, and delicatessens," according to the submitted comments.
Other businesses that would be included under this definition are "table service restaurants, quick service restaurants, coffee shops, delicatessens, food take-out and/or delivery establishments (e.g., pizza take-out and delivery establishments), convenience stores, movie theaters, cafeterias, bakeries/retail confectionary stores, food service vendors (e.g., lunch wagons, ice cream shops, mall cookie counters, and sidewalk carts), and transportation carriers (e.g., airlines and trains)."
The National Grocer’s Association today issued a release in opposition to this potential inclusion of supermarket prepared food departments under the FDA’s menu labeling rules. NGA Executive Vice President and General Counsel Tom Wenning also noted that many independent operators share common banners, and would therefore be lumped together under the proposed rule’s current language, which will require chains of 20 or more stores to comply with the law.
"The proposed rules would add significant costs and burden to food retailers, independent retailers in particular and with little benefit to consumers," Tom Wenning, NGA’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in the release. "There is no rational basis for considering independent food retailers to be part of a chain just because they may operate under a common banner name. The proposed rule is flawed in that it indicates that a chain should be covered regardless of the type of ownership of the individual locations."