WASHINGTON -- The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) called the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 1249), bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday by U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), "a thoughtful approach to providing the necessary flexibility and understanding of foodservice operations at convenience stores."
The Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (PPACA), signed into law in March 2010, includes a provision that calls for a national, uniform nutrition-disclosure standard for foodservice establishments. Regulations implementing this provision, released in 2011, would create rigid requirements that pose an unreasonable burden on many businesses, particularly c-stores.
Cathy McMorris RodgersThe proposed regulations would require chain restaurants, "similar retail food establishments," and vending machines with 20 or more locations to provide specific nutritional information, including calorie-counts on menus, menu boards and drive-thru boards. Self-service items such as buffets and salad bars must contain caloric information "adjacent" to the item. Retailers would have to provide additional nutrition information in writing upon request.
NACS and other trade groups support the introduced legislation that would direct the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to implement a restaurant menu-labeling provision in the way in which Congress originally intended: to provide a uniform standard for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations in order to preempt the various state and local menu labeling laws.
"Under FDA's proposal, if more than 50% of a store's floor space is devoted to selling food--including prepackaged food--that store must comply with the same menu labeling obligations as restaurants," said NACS president and CEO Henry Armour during a Capitol Hill press conference. "This is flawed for two reasons: First, revenue--not floor space--is how the government should measure a business's primary activity. Floor space is an ambiguous standard that is prone to manipulation and ambiguity, the opposite characteristics of sound regulations. Second, prepackaged food--which already contains nutritional information--should not be a part of this equation. Instead, we should be looking only at food that is prepared onsite and intended for immediate consumption. This only makes sense, because these are the products that the menu labeling regulations target."
Armour added, "The bill introduced today would codify a less burdensome approach to menu labeling by limiting the provision to food retailers that derive 50% or more of their total revenue from the sale of food. Prepackaged food would not be considered in this equation."
Given that 17% of c-stores' in-store revenue dollars were derived from prepackaged food according to NACS 2011 State of the Industry data, most c-stores would be exempt under the new legislation.
"This legislation introduced today will allow FDA to satisfy Congress's objectives without unnecessarily burdening most convenience stores," said NACS chairman Dave Carpenter, president and CEO of J.D. Carpenter Cos. Inc. "It provides much-needed flexibility and recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in a channel like ours with such diverse food offerings--let alone other retail channels," said Carpenter.
The National Restaurant Association opposes the legislation. In a letter to lawmakers, the group and several restaurant companies said that H.R. 1249 would create an "unlevel playing field" between restaurants and other entities that serve restaurant food, such as chain grocery and c-stores, by exempting them from providing uniform nutrition information to customers.
"This legislation would broadly exempt chain grocery, convenience stores and other entities that sell restaurant food from providing uniform nutrition information to customers despite that fact that each day thousands of customers purchase meals at these establishments," said Scott DeFife, executive vice president, policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association. "These companies each made strategic decisions to compete directly with their local restaurant community, in this regard, and need to play by the same rules as those with whom they choose to compete."
He added, "We understand that proposed rules have brought on some questions, and we look forward to working with Congress should these issues remain unresolved through the regulatory process; however, we strongly believe this legislative proposal is not the right way to address these concerns."