Having seen their state-level campaigns stifled by pesky consumer choice advocates, menu labeling activists are now looking to impose their will on the American public through federal fiat. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has introduced legislation requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menu boards, and fat and sodium content counts on their menus. DeLauro’s bill, with the so-hokey-it’s-almost-clever name of The Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, is currently sitting in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee and has collected a dozen co-sponsors.
DeLauro has repeatedly cited the rising rate of childhood obesity as the primary justification for her efforts. But virtually all the epidemiological research indicates that it’s physical inactivity — not one too many cheeseburgers — that’s the real reason for kids’ expanding waistlines.
Not surprisingly, DeLauro hasn’t made even the slightest effort to address the concerns of critics of menu labeling laws. For starters: They open up restaurants to lawsuits from customers served food that doesn’t contain precisely the amount of calories indicated on the labels. They further stigmatize food, making customers feel even guiltier about their meal choices (which leads to unhealthy eating behaviors). There’s no evidence that menu labeling positively affects customer behavior. And compliance can be incredibly costly, especially for smaller chains.
Used to be the only menu labels we had to worry about were for peanut allergies. But thanks to the MEAL Act, it’s clear that they’re not just for nuts anymore.