California Legislature Passes Historic Menu Labeling Bill

Governor Schwarzenegger Urged to Make California First State to Require Nutrition Info

September 11, 2007

Last night the California Assembly passed a bill requiring calories on fast-food menu boards and additional nutrition information on chain-restaurants’ printed menus. Later today, the state’s Senate will consider separate legislation that would require restaurants to phase out their use of artificial trans fats. Both measures have the strong support of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to sign both bills.

California would become the first state in the country to require nutrition labeling on chain-restaurant menus. New York City and King County, Washington, which includes Seattle and its suburbs, have passed trans fat and menu labeling regulations, and Philadelphia's city council and Montgomery County, Maryland’s county council have also passed trans-fat phase-outs. Menu labeling bills have been introduced in 20 states and localities this year.

“Without nutrition information at the point of decision-making in chain restaurants, it’s hard for people to make informed choices for themselves and their children,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI. “Who would expect that some coffee drinks at Starbucks have more calories than a Big Mac, or that a tuna salad sub from Subway has more calories than a roast beef sub?”

The menu-labeling bill (SB 120), sponsored by Senators Alex Padilla and Carole Midgen, applies only to chain restaurants having 15 or more outlets nationally and only to standardized menu items, not daily specials or customized orders. Fast-food restaurants that use menu boards would be required to display calories in the same size font as the price, and table-service chains such as Applebee’s would be required to list calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and carbohydrate content next to each menu choice.

In New York City, chains such as Subway, Johnny Rockets, and Auntie Anne’s are now using easy-to-read menu boards or menus that list calories, though the restaurant industry is challenging the requirement in federal court. CSPI recently prepared a mock-up of a Wendy’s menu board to show that chain how easily and clearly calories can be displayed.

“Governor Schwarzenegger has been vocal about the need to do something about obesity, and here’s an opportunity for him to help Californians exercise their personal responsiblity when ordering for themselves and their children at chain restaurants,” Wootan said. “He should sign it without delay.”


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