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Washington Report: Senators Question FDA Commissioner on Menu Labeling

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Commissioner Hamburg said the FDA is planning to issue a final rule soon on menu-labeling regulations.
April 19, 2013

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Appropriations held a hearing yesterday on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed FY2014 budget. During the hearing, Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) asked Commissioner Margaret Hamburg about menu labeling. The exchange is transcribed below:

Senator Blunt: What about the easy to deal with topic of menu labeling? Where are you on that, when do you expect the FDA to issue its final rule?

Commissioner Hamburg: Well we hope to issue the final rule soon. As you know it has been an extended process… we’ve talked before about how I naively thought menu labeling would be one of the easier to implement components of the law, but in fact it has been very challenging. But we have had the opportunity for a process of notice and comment rulemaking and in response to the proposed rule that we put forward we did receive a very large number of comments. We are currently going through all of those and trying to finalize a final policy document and we will be getting that out…certainly by the end of this year although knock on wood, and as soon as we possibly can.

Blunt: By the end of this calendar year or fiscal?

Hamburg: I was saying calendar year. But it is a high priority we’re trying to move forward with it. I can’t tell you exactly when, and whenever I do make those kinds of statements I always regret it. But we are moving into the home stretch and I know you’ve had many concerns about aspects of it and we have heard those concerns and they were reflected in the comments but it has been a complex rulemaking process. 

Blunt: Well, you and I both have learned a lot more about this than we would have ever expected to learn. And things like small chain grocery stores, the food they have available in the store, drive-thrus, locations that are almost exclusively delivery locations…how much posting do they need to do at the location? All of those are things that obviously people are going to look very closely at when that rule does come out…

Senator Cochran (R-MS): Madame Commissioner, I understand the FDA is having some difficulty in complying with or figuring out how to respond to the requirement that menus be labeled to show various things for the consuming public. Food retailers in my state of Mississippi have expressed some concerns too about how this affects them and how they’re supposed to comply. What type of establishments do you foresee will be affected and governed by these new requirements? 

Hamburg: Well the law was quite explicit about chains of 20 or more restaurants or vending machines in terms of the applicability of FDA regulatory oversight. Defining exactly what a…restaurant is fairly straightforward; a restaurant-like establishment is a more complex challenge in our modern world of fast food stores and pizza delivery and the different kinds of models of in-grocery store cafes, etc. And that’s really where the greatest challenges have come and where we have gone through an extended process for putting out proposals, asking questions and seeking public comment and we are trying now to go through all of that and compile the issues and concerns and reflect those back in a final rule which we hope will be published very soon.

Make Your Voice Heard
NACS supports H.R. 1249, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). This legislation would apply menu-labeling provisions to locations where 50% or more of a store’s revenues are from food that is: (a) intended for immediate consumption, or (b) prepared and processed on-site. Prepackaged food would not be considered in this solution. FDA would therefore be able to meet its goals of menu labeling under law without adding unnecessary costs to convenience stores. Ask your representative to support H.R. 1249 today!