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Some in the latter camp seem certain that others should simply divine a way to comply with the FDA’s proposed rules.
“I think pizza places should label calories—really, they can figure out how to do it,” New York University professor of public health Marion Nestle wrote at her Food Politics blog over the summer.
One way pizza chains might do so is to post a calorie range for all menu items. But pizza makers argue that such a range would be too broad and, anyways, 90 percent of their customers order their food online or over the phone—making in-store posting not just costly but also irrelevant and unhelpful to consumers.
Nestle says she doesn’t buy that argument.
“The idea that the range of calories is so great as to be meaningless I don’t think holds any kind of water—or mozzarella cheese—at all because it at least gives you a ballpark figure,” she told CBS This Morning in June.
But that’s a startling and confusing reversal for Nestle, who was highly critical of the FDA permitting those same menu calorie ranges in an April post at her Food Politics blog.
“I noticed other key omissions in the FDA’s proposed rules,” Nestle wrote then. “For one thing, they allow impossibly large ranges such as the 200-to-800 calories that Chipotle posts, for example.”
Just to recap Nestle’s argument: Pizza chains can figure out how to label menu items. Large calorie ranges are a reasonable way to label menu items. The FDA should not permit large calorie ranges as part of menu item labeling.
Given Nestle’s conflicting arguments and—more important—the potential cost and logical impossibility of displaying millions of possible calorie counts on a menu board, it’s no wonder that the American Pizza Community and grocers are seeking reasonable accommodations.
“What does make common sense is to put the information online or in handheld menus, where it's useful to consumers and affordable for small business pizza shop owners,” Liddle tells me. “We're just asking for a reasonable approach to calorie disclosure. You wouldn't think that would be so hard."
I don’t support coerced menu labeling generally because it limits culinary innovation and doesn’t appear to achieve its stated goal of reducing calorie intake.
For pizza chains—the bulk of which serve customers who purchase online or over the phone and who may (like me) never order a pizza from inside a Domino’s or a Papa John’s, permitting calorie counts to be posted online and via smartphone and tablet apps makes sense. In the case of grocery stores, it's clear Congress never intended the FDA’s restaurant menu labeling law to apply to them.
A bill introduced last year by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2012, would have exempted pizza chains and grocers from being forced to comply with the new rules.
Time ran out on the bill with the seating this week of the new Congress. But supporters of the bill are optimistic it will be reintroduced and pass soon in the new Congress. I, for one, hope Congress orders up this slice of wisdom.