Menu Labeling Urged for Montgomery County, Md., and DC


Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson at Joint Press Conference

August 2, 2007

I’m pleased to be here with District of Columbia Councilmember Phil Mendelson and Montgomery Council Councilmember George Leventhal to talk about the need for nutrition information at chain restaurants.

I should say at the outset that Phil Mendelson has been championing the idea of putting nutrition information on chain restaurant menus since 2003, long before any other jurisdiction actually enacted such a measure. Though it has not yet come to pass in D.C., this movement that he helped start has spread to New York City on one coast, and to Seattle on the other. I hope this is the year that your bill, the DC Menu Education and Labeling, or DC MEAL Act, has the full hearing and the fair, up-or-down vote that it deserves.

The Montgomery County Council, whose Health Committee George Leventhal chairs, was one of the first in the country to protect restaurant diners from secondhand smoke, and recently became the first county council in the country to prohibit the use of artificial trans fat in restaurants. We commend Councilmembers Leventhal and also Duchy Trachtenberg for introducing their menu labeling proposal and urge its adoption by the full council. Consider for a moment that the McDonald’s behind me offers some 8 burgers, ranging from a 250-calorie hamburger to a 740-calorie Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Drinks range from zero calories for diet soda to 1,160 calories in the case of a Triple Thick Shake. At McDonald’s you can have a 500-calorie meal or a 2,000-calorie meal. (I bet most people wouldn’t have guessed they could eat about two Big Macs for the calories in that shake.) With calorie counts on McDonald’s and others’ menu boards, consumers would at least have that one important piece of nutrition information to compare item to item and make an informed choice.

Some in the industry have claimed that there simply isn’t enough room for calorie counts on menu boards. In fact, the industry is actually suing the New York City Board of Health to prevent it from enforcing the new menu labeling rule there, which the city intends to start enforcing in earnest this fall. However, that argument was dealt a rather fatal blow by Subway, which without a lot of fuss was able to design perfectly attractive and uncluttered menu boards that list calories quite clearly. You can see what it looks like here.

But take Wendy’s. Their burgers may be square, but when it comes to menu labeling, they talk in circles. Recently Wendy’s made the laughable claim that one reason they couldn’t comply with menu labeling in New York is that their food is “made to order.” But of course they list all these numbers on their web site. Heck, on their web site they list that a slice of tomato has 5 calories, but that’s not what these sensible menu labeling proposals are all about. To help put Wendy’s mind at ease we Photoshopped calorie counts into a picture of one of their menu boards. As you can see, it’s not that hard to do.

A #4 Big Bacon Classic small combo meal is going to have 1,090 calories whether it’s served up at Wendy’s on Georgia Avenue or in Gaithersburg. And I hope diners at chain restaurants everywhere in Washington and in Montgomery County soon will have this important information when they place their orders.

 

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