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Health Care Bill Passes…
The Devil Is In The Details

Now that the Health Care bill has passed the House, the President will soon sign it and it will become the law of the land. The good thing about this is that we will actually come to know what is in the law.

Already the Center for Science in the Public Interest is crowing about their pet project:


CSPI Celebrates “Huge Victory for Consumers” After 7-Year Fight

WASHINGTON — Tucked neatly inside the health reform legislation headed to the Oval Office for a presidential signature is language that will require calorie labeling on chain restaurant menus, menu boards, and drive-through displays, as well as on vending machines. The legislation applies to chains with 20 or more outlets, and requires them to provide additional nutrition information on request.

Similar measures are already in effect or are awaiting implementation in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, New York City, Philadelphia, and a dozen other localities. The federal standard will supersede the varied state and local requirements.

”Coffee drinks can range from 20 calories to 800 calories, and burgers can range from 250 calories to well over 1,000 calories,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “With the health reform legislation passed today, Congress is giving Americans easy access to the most critical piece of nutrition information they need when eating out. While it’s a huge victory for consumers, it’s just one of dozens of things we will need to do to reduce rates of obesity and diet-related disease in this country.”

CSPI began pressing for nutrition labeling at chain restaurants in 2003. In past sessions of Congress, stand-alone menu labeling bills were introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). New York City became the first jurisdiction to enact menu labeling, via regulations issued by the city’s Board of Health, in 2006. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California’s menu labeling law in 2008, after vetoing a similar measure the year before. The National Restaurant Association dropped its longstanding objection to menu labeling last year, and actually supported the language passed by Congress today.

”The historic legislation that President Barack Obama will sign will do so much to give more Americans access to health care, but it also does much to help prevent disease in the first place,” Wootan said. “Menu labeling at restaurants will help make First Lady Michelle Obama’s mission to reduce childhood obesity just a little bit easier.”

The bill exempts small businesses, and does not apply to daily or temporary specials and customized orders. It requires the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose specific regulations not later than one year from now. Those regulations will be finalized through a formal rulemaking process, and the FDA must make quarterly reports on its progress to Congress.

Our take on the matter was a little different. We seem to have been the first in the country to publish anything about this item that was slipped into the bill. We mentioned it here on the Pundit but first wrote about it for National Review Online in a piece titled, When Did Restaurant Regulation Creep Into The Health-Care Bill?:

The relevant section is titled “Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items at Chain Restaurants,” and the gist is that restaurants and retailers that serve prepared foods will have to display on the menu a “nutrient content disclosure statement,” which will list the calories of each item and a “succinct statement concerning suggested daily caloric intake” designed “to enable the public to understand, in the context of a total daily diet, the significance of the caloric information that is provided on the menu.” The information must also be available in writing and there must be signage advising that it is available.

Restaurants’ daily specials are exempted, but drive-through windows are not. Nor are vending-machine operators. The regulation applies to any outlet with at least twenty stores — including not just centrally owned and operated companies, but also franchises.

It is not surprising that this regulation made it into the bills. Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) is a big supporter and, more broadly, the idea fits into the now-trendy notion among the Michael Pollan crowd that the focus on medicine and insurance is somewhat misplaced as the real focus should be on food and nutrition.

Besides, hardly anyone important in the food business is opposing the regulation. Similar legislation, known as the LEAN Act, was endorsed by a who’s who of the restaurant industry, including the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Partly this is because most big fast-food chains publish this info anyway, partly because the industry wants to preempt state and local standards with a federal one and, partly because the NRA is desperately trying to avoid having restaurants blamed for national obesity issues.

The specific problem is that there is not the slightest scintilla of evidence that making such information available changes behavior. California has health warnings so ubiquitous that everyone seems to ignore them. The government mandated that private companies make substantial expenditures to make sure that fresh foods have country-of-origin labeling on them. This was done at the behest of U.S. producers who thought such labeling would swing business to them. Yet there is no evidence that consumers have changed purchasing habits.

Because the cost of executing this new nutritional-labeling requirement is paid by the private sector, it doesn’t show up when the Congressional Budget Office scores the cost of the bill — but a cost it is. Since we have no reason to think there is any effect to this new labeling requirement, we can presume that lots of money will wind up being spent with little or no effect.

You can read the whole thing here.

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