Company warned that proposed nutrition brochures not enough

Ben & Jerry’s plan to post nutrition information on its web site and on brochures was welcomed by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) executive director Michael F. Jacobson and law professor John Banzhaf. But Banzhaf and Jacobson say the company should post calories on menu boards if it wants to avoid legal liability for failing to disclose that information to consumers. Ben & Jerry’s described its plan in response to a letter that Banzhaf and Jacobson sent to several ice cream chains. Only Ben & Jerry’s responded.

“Because they’re often hard to find, hard to read, or out of stock, nutrition brochures in fast-food chain restaurants have proven to be a failed experiment,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Nutrition information is critical for consumers who are trying to reduce their risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, or other health problems.”

Many chains that currently provide nutrition brochures were prompted to do so by attorneys general in several states, who considered legal action again fast-food chains in the mid-1980s. Now, legislation is pending in Congress and in several state legislatures that would require fast-food chains to post calories on menu boards.

“If chain restaurants are concerned about their customers’ health or potential lawsuits, they should put at least calorie counts on menu boards,” Banzhaf said. “It would be much harder for someone to bring a health-related legal claim against chain restaurants if some basic nutrition information were readily available to consumers at the point of decision making.”

According to a 2003 CSPI analysis, some ice cream chains’ offerings contain staggering amounts of calories and saturated fat—the kind of fat that clogs arteries and causes heart disease. According to CSPI, an empty Ben & Jerry’s chocolate-dipped waffle cone has 320 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat. That cone with a large serving of Chunky Monkey Ice Cream provides 1,060 calories and 39 grams—almost two days’ worth—of saturated fat.

Ben & Jerry’s is a unit of Unilever, the international food conglomerate whose other brands include Lipton, Slim-Fast, Hellman’s, and Dove soap.