Recipe For A Lawsuit

After the California State Senate passed a menu labeling bill that used the language of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) word for word, it was only a matter of time before a menu labeling bill written by CSPI would end up on Capitol Hill. This week Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) circulated a “dear colleague” letter seeking co-sponsors for just such a bill — which would force restaurants with 20 or more outlets to list calories, saturated plus trans fat, and sodium on printed menus, and calories on menu boards.

Click here to view CSPI’s suggested legislation for a federal menu labeling bill, and here to see a version of DeLauro’s proposal. Aside from a few minor differences (the biggest being that CSPI would apply the mandate to all restaurants with 10 or more locations), the language is identical. CSPI’s model legislation has the same requirements for menus and menu boards, as does this draft of DeLauro’s bill. The “dear colleague” letter that suggests a lesser mandate on menu boards may indicate a slight softening of CSPI’s draconian proposal.

In addition to her legislation, DeLauro also lifted whole paragraphs from a CSPI memo for her “dear colleague” letter. Click here for DeLauro’s letter, and here for CSPI’s memo.

As we’ve pointed out before, CSPI’s interest in menu labeling isn’t simply to provide consumers with more information. For these litigious food scolds, labeling will facilitate their efforts to encourage lawsuits against restaurants. CSPI is just salivating over the chance to “expose” menu items as “mislabeled” — inviting lawsuits from the band of greedy trial lawyers now targeting food companies. If you think that’s impossible, check out what happened when the CSPI sleuths “revealed” that a “100 percent fruit” spread was not 100% strawberries (while actually being 100% fruit).

Lawsuits are far from the only problem with the DeLauro/CSPI legislation. For example, it includes no exemption for daily specials. And it makes no effort to address questions like how to label a salad when most of the calories come from the kind of dressing you choose.

Even if these devil-in-the-details problems were magically to disappear, restaurants — and therefore consumers — would have to spend a great deal of money complying with CSPI-style menu labeling legislation. But never fear. Congresswoman DeLauro tells The Washington Times that the cost “won’t be too prohibitive.” Well, that’s a relief. At least the extra expense will only be slightly prohibitive.

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