Menu Labeling

FDA Pushing Forward with Terrible Menu-Labeling Rules

Commissioner Scott Gottlieb applauds the agency's unfortunate mandate and promises clear guidance by the end of the year.


Joao Virissimo | Dreamstime

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the agency will forge ahead with implementing the Obama administration's costly, misguided, pointless, reckless, and potentially unconstitutional menu-labeling rules.

"As a doctor, father[,] and the head of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, I believe that everyone is entitled to the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they eat," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement earlier this week. "We serve as the nation's expert on food labeling, which is why Congress entrusted us with the responsibility of crafting predictable, uniform federal standards that will benefit the health of families across America by ensuring access to essential calorie and nutrition information on food and menu labels."

I will give Gottlieb that he's a doctor, father, and the head of the FDA. After that, the facts become murky. For example, if the FDA were indeed "the nation's expert on food labeling," as Gottlieb claims, one way the agency might demonstrate that expertise is by not forcing America's food manufacturers to change their food labels every couple years.

Nevertheless, Gottlieb's rationale about Americans' nebulous entitlement to information is predictably familiar. It's been trumpeted in recent years by those who support mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods, mandatory "added sugar" labeling, mandatory trans fat labeling, and pretty much every other potential food-labeling requirement under the sun.

So what's wrong with mandatory menu labeling? For one, as Politico reported this week in a piece on the FDA's menu labeling plans, there's some debate over its effectiveness.

"[E]vidence on whether it works is mixed," Politico notes. "Some studies have found that it helps certain individuals, especially women, eat slightly fewer calories, but others have found no effect."

I wish Politico had also reported perhaps the most significant evidence around menu labeling: Its very basis is a ruse. Research has shown mandatory menu labeling doesn't help most people choose to eat fewer calories, and may in fact push people to eat more calories.

"Who cares about calories?" asked a 2013 NBC News headline. "Restaurant menu labels don't work, study shows."

"[A]t no time did the labels lead to a reduction in the calories of what diners ordered," the New York Times reported in 2015. "Even if people noticed the calorie counts, they did not change their behavior."

Estimates of the escalating costs of complying with the FDA rules is another reason to hate the rules. A new study by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), estimates the regulations will cost its members more than $84 million each year.

"The way the FDA rule is written makes it virtually impossible for businesses to comply with the regulations even though they will spend billions over the next several years trying to do so," says economist David Zorn, who authored the NACS study.

Compliance costs for the entire food industry are estimated to run somewhere north of $300 million per year.

Even with all those costs, attempting to comply with the rules may prove futile. As I wrote earlier this summer, complying with these rules may be somewhere between difficult and impossible for many food sellers.

Take, for example, pizza-delivery outfits like Domino's.

"With 34 million ways to make a pizza, it makes no common sense to require this industry—which already discloses calories voluntarily, for the most part—to attempt to cram this information on menu boards in small storefronts," said Lynn Liddle, who chairs the American Pizza Community, a coalition representing much of the American pizza industry, in an email to me in 2013.

If menu labeling is costly, impossible, and ineffective—something I've written time and again—then why doesn't the FDA just scrap the plan altogether? The truth is that the issue is largely out of the agency's hands. Congress passed a law that requires the FDA to develop menu-labeling rules as part of the Affordable Care Act.

"Unfortunately, the FDA does have to issue a rule of some kind, thanks to Congress," says Daren Bakst, research fellow in agricultural policy with the Heritage Foundation, in an email to me this week. "To address the menu labeling requirement, Congress needs to take action to repeal this provision that was in Obamacare."

So Gottlieb's hands are largely tied. Earlier this summer, I wrote that a few options for delaying or scrapping the rules were still available.

"Congress could act by repealing or amending the menu-labeling rules," I wrote. "Or food sellers whose First Amendment rights would be violated by rules that compel speech for no constitutionally supported reason could ask a court to halt implementation of the rules. Or the FDA could delay the rules from taking effect."

While the latter has happened numerous times, Gottlieb says those delays have an expiration date. In his announcement, Gottlieb says the agency "will provide additional, practical guidance on the menu labeling requirements by the end of this year."

Bakst, of the Heritage Foundation, isn't optimistic. He tells me the whole premise underlying the FDA menu-labeling rules "is based on the idea that the public is ignorant and needs the federal government to help influence their dietary choices; this is effectively what the FDA itself wrote during the rulemaking process. The level of arrogance of this thinking is amazing."

He's right. And that arrogance is one that's simply carried over from the Obama administration to the current administration.

NEXT: Vaccines, Peter Thiel and the Fine Art of the Journalistic Hatchet Job

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  1. This will make people fatter (since it trains them to ignore their own body’s signs of satiety) and thus will create numerous medical issues which is the whole point of Obamacare. Anyone who claims that Obamacare will save lives or make people healthier is OFF THEIR MEDS.

    1. And anyone who is on ObamaCare and says they like it are not paying anything close to the premium that they should be paying. The majority of ObamaCare subscribers receive a subsidy, and the majority of those who don’t receive a subsidy have a very expensive pre-existing condition.

      1. A bit of a nit, but people don’t subscribe to Obamacare. They are subject to its rules. I don’t have any pre-existing conditions and I don’t get a subsidy, but I’m forced to buy a policy that conforms to the law’s rules. I didn’t subscribe – the law made me do it. And that goes for just about everyone else. Very few can opt out of the Obamacare rules. You either have a policy that fits within the law or you are subject to the rules on penalties. The only ones not subject are those with very low incomes and members of certain groups.

        1. change your number of exemptions so you do not get a refund and do not buy insurance. We should all refuse to buy until we can buy EXACTLY what we want! I will make payments to a hospital if necessary instead of an insurance company.

  2. If we have to have menu labeling rules, how about:
    Our food contains calories. Nutritional value may vary as may specific calorie counts.

    Anything beyond that is a fantasy or a lie.

  3. Anyone who is interested enough in calorie counts already knows enough to make choices in line with their calorie preferences. They aren’t going to be surprised to see that chicken alfredo is 900 calories. It’s a pointless costly exercise in feel good politics.

    1. 900? More like 1200-1500.

      1. How many calories a day are people supposed to take in? 3,000? YOU CAN’T WASTE HALF OF THEM ON JUST ONE MEAL. Luckily bread is calorie-free, I suppose.

        1. Don’t know about bread but it is a well known fact that all pastries in the breakroom are calorie-free as are all desserts at banquets.

          1. And beer. Not a calorie in sight!

            1. Liquids don’t have calories. It is known.

              [slurps milkshake]

        2. 3,000 if you run everyday. Otherwise, 2,000 should suffice.

        3. Depends on the person, but 3,000 would be pretty high. Estimate your Base Metabolic Rate and add the calories you burn from exercise or other activities.

    2. Not a fan of mandatory labeling, but people constantly underestimate calorie counts.

      1. So?
        People constantly underestimate how much damage democrats can do, but they still get elected.

    3. But think of all the big signs they’ll have to fix every few years! Its like that economist’s suggestion that we have people dig canals with spoons.

  4. Or food sellers whose First Amendment rights would be violated by rules that compel speech for no constitutionally supported reason could ask a court to halt implementation of the rules.

    The Constitution isn’t an all you can eat buffet. How many calories in the Bill of Rights? Keep your laws going into our bodies! And so on.

    1. The second amendment has been repealed, the fourth is ignored, the first is next.

  5. If menu labeling is costly, impossible, and ineffective?something I’ve written time and again?then why doesn’t the FDA just scrap the plan altogether? The truth is that the issue is largely out of the agency’s hands. Congress passed a law that requires the FDA to develop menu-labeling rules as part of the Affordable Care Act.

    So this is something we’re suffering under because of those nasty Demorats back when they controlled Congress and Nasty Poolosi was Speaker? If only Comrade Ryan knew, he’d fix this!

  6. If menu labeling is costly, impossible, and ineffective?something I’ve written time and again?then why doesn’t the FDA just scrap the plan altogether? The truth is that the issue is largely out of the agency’s hands. Congress passed a law that requires the FDA to develop menu-labeling rules as part of the Affordable Care Act.

    If this doesn’t accomplish what our food science overlords intend, then they’ll just have to ban menu items that they don’t like.

    And, if you disapprove of their ban, what’s the matter with you? Are you a science denier, or just a moron?

  7. I should have written “nutrition science” instead of “food science”. Food science isn’t a fraud.

    1. Is that the food/nutrition science that says coffee is good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you?
      And that fat is good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you?
      And eggs good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you?

  8. The Humane Society of the United States thinks food is entirely too cheap; those poor folks can afford good cuts of meat, so we’re going to fix THAT!

    “New ballot initiative could increase California farm animal welfare standards”
    “On Tuesday, the Humane Society of the United States introduced a ballot initiative called the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, which calls for a requirement that all pork and veal sold in California be produced without restrictive crates, and that all eggs produced and sold in the state be cage-free.”…..gatehpfood

    1. I have never, never in my entire life, seen caged eggs. They are always in cartons.

  9. I’ve never understood why people pay more for less – fewer calories, less fat, reduced flavor, etc. This would have been unfathomable to humans throughout most of history, and probably still is in many countries. “Comfort eating?” Ah, the torments of modernity!

    When I go to the store, I buy the most nutritionally and calorically dense, high fat, tasty food possible! If you’re going to eat, do it right! In most cases of obesity, the problem isn’t the food. It’s gluttony combined with laziness and a refusal to exercise at least an hour or two, each day!

    Maybe follow them around with a tuba for motivation? “That’ll be sixty dollars…”

    1. Easy to tell that you’ve never been obese, making such moral judgements.

      A lot of people are obese because they were not forced to develop good dietary or exercise habits as a kid, but were allowed to follow the natural instinct of eating as many calories and expending as few as possible. Which was adaptive for nearly all of human history.

      And once you’re in your late 20s and beyond, when your metabolism slows down, you’re screwed. Your body is going to fight to keep any fat reserve you develop (again, adaptive for most of human history). If you try to cut back on what you eat, your brain thinks you’re starving and pushes you to eat any calories you see, and punishes you for exercising. Not to mention that a lot of exercise types carry a high probability of injury for fat people, so there’s a very limited variety available.

  10. Tell me this wouldn’t motivate people far better than any menu labels ever could:

  11. I actually like the calorie labeling requirements, but for the opposite reason the law was intended. I hate it when I go to an unfamiliar restaurant, order something that looks tasty, then when they bring it out, it’s a tiny portion. With menu labeling laws, I can spot that the $20 filet mignon only has 150 calories and know what they’re up to.

    This is also useful when I’m really hungry, so I can figure out how to get the most calories for the least money. And you can bet there are a lot of people who “abuse” the calorie counts just like me.

    1. ^This shoulda been the whole article

    2. That’s what I do with calorie counts. I’m a skinny fucker and need all I can get for my money.

  12. I chalk this up to the same bedrock of Puritanism that makes Americans obnoxious in so many ways. We inherently distrust pleasure, in contrast with, say, the French. So in movies and TV, fucking is more taboo than beheading. And with food, no meal is complete without shame.

    1. Some of us don’t delineate between “depictions of violence” and “masturbatory material”, Tony.


  13. Also, thanks holiday weekend for making our Obama mofo mommas like Citizen Crusty disappear for a little while.

    1. Yes, with them gone I feel much less intellectually challenged around here.

    2. Well, whatever brightens up your sad little life, I guess.

      1. Go home, Best- Citizen Zeb Crusty Chipper -UsedCarSales, Now #1 #6 Tulpa. We’re onto you.

  14. Thanks, Trump:

    “Democratic infighting between establishment, progressives sweeping country”
    “At the Netroots Nation conference in Atlanta last month, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren opened her speech to 3,000 progressives with a spirited attack on … former Democratic President Bill Clinton.
    “The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill,” she said, referring to a pair of Clinton’s best-known centrist accomplishments. “It is not going to happen.”…..169484.php

  15. Ok, so, if you can look past the Leftist crap of this place
    and recognize under worlds for the wisdom they
    fucking don’t provide because wisdom often

    exists like tall fucking oak trees
    growing about escaping all the saws

    choose a life partner that
    gets irritated when your best
    friend pushes his or her buttons
    in a way that seems unnatural

    choose a life partner that
    seems to dart from old suns
    and lost moons
    and old friends testing their
    resolve with strong questions

  16. Alright, so….you– the she or the he of the situation has known the man or woman in question for many years and this love sick forlorn piece of crap empty fuck decides to finally latch onto a fucking swipe page and within fucking weeks invite this bundle of boobs to my fucking place (Dan, if you are reading this shit- peace and fuck you) and then expect her not to run the FUCKING gauntlet of my goddamn world.

    If you wish to rend 24 years of relating down the drain for a FUCKING mental ward doctor you just FUCKING met a month ago then you can eat my goddamn cum, DAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    She needs to earn her stripes, pure and simple. If she can’t handle me then maybe you should just eat dick, get married to her fucking ass, and then head for divorce 2, silver fox. Because evidently, my sister shitting you out just didn’t make you fucking calculated enough as it pertains to like partners.

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