Poll: Huge Majorities Support Calorie Labeling in Supermarkets, Vending Machines, Movie Theaters

Administration Should Not Poke Loopholes in Menu Rule, CSPI Says

June 4, 2012

Seventy percent of Americans favor having movie theaters list calories on menu boards and 68 percent favor having chain restaurants list calories for alcoholic beverages, according to a new poll released today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. The survey comes as the Obama Administration is putting the finishing touches on a regulation requiring calorie counts at chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments. To the dismay of many health groups, a draft of the rule released last year exempted alcoholic beverages, movie theaters, hotels, stadiums, and other venues that sell restaurant-type foods—even though the 2010 law that established calorie labeling included those venues.

According to the survey commissioned by CSPI, 77 percent of Americans want calorie labeling for the hot dogs, pizza slices, and burritos available at convenience stores, and 81 percent favor having supermarkets provide calorie information for their prepared restaurant-type foods, such as rotisserie chicken, sandwiches, and soups.

"Americans just want to know what they're eating," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Menu labeling at chain restaurants will be enormously helpful. But it doesn't make sense to create loopholes for certain companies, when that's not what Congress intended and it's not what people want."

CSPI says—and the restaurant industry by and large agrees—that requiring calorie labeling at supermarkets, convenience stores, and movie theaters promotes a level playing field.

"We believe the Proposed Rule arbitrarily and unjustifiably excludes establishments that are not only similar to, but actually function as, restaurants, and that have publicly announced their intention to offer restaurant-type food," the National Restaurant Association wrote in its comments to the Food and Drug Administration.

"If McDonald's is providing calorie counts for its sodas, why shouldn't 7-11 or Regal Cinemas?" Wootan asks. "If Cracker Barrel has to list calories for its salad bar items, why shouldn’t Whole Foods or Safeway?"

Fifty-five percent favor calories listed directly on vending machines, and only 34 percent would prefer that information on a poster located near a vending machine. The Administration’s draft rule would allow the latter option, where the information likely would be hard to see while consumers make their choices. The law explicitly states that the calorie listings should be on the selection button or next to the foods.

Earlier this month, 21 officials from some of the nation’s leading health organizations, including the chief executive officers of the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, called on the Obama Administration to revise the proposed menu labeling regulations "to bring them in line with the requirements set forth by Congress and to best serve the needs of the American people."

Meanwhile, another segment of the food industry is planning on asking for congressional help getting around the new menu labeling law. Under the rubric of The American Pizza Community, Domino's, Papa John's, Little Caesar, and other pizza chains are seeking meetings with Members of Congress later in June, according to Nation's Restaurant News.

"First the pizza lobby convinced Congress to legislate that pizza is a vegetable under the school lunch program. Now they want an exemption from the calorie labeling rule," Wootan said. "All of these chains have been providing calorie counts in New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle, where it's been required by local law. One can imagine why these chains aren't bragging about having 2,500 or 3,000 calories per pizza, but that's no reason to conceal it from the public."

A 16-inch Spicy Italian Pizza from Papa John's has 4,000 calories, according to its website.

CSPI's telephone survey was conducted among 1012 adults from May 24 to May 27 by CARAVAN ® an omnibus service from ORC International.


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