California introduces restaurant calorie count legislation

Posted by Isobel Drake on 1st October 2008

Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday signed new legislation making California the first American state to have its restaurant chains with 20 or more locations statewide post calorie information on menus and indoor menu boards for consumers. Similar legislation was introduced earlier this year in New York City.
“This legislation will help Californians make more informed, healthier choices by making calorie information easily accessible at thousands of restaurants throughout our state,” Governor Schwarzenegger said. “By being the first state to provide this information to consumers, California is continuing to lead the nation with programs and policies that promote health and nutrition.”

The legislation requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie information on their menus and indoor menu boards by January 1, 2011. And beginning July 1, 2009, brochures containing either calorie content information or other nutritional information, such as grams of saturated fat, grams of carbohydrates and milligrams of sodium, will be at the point of sale and ‘drive-thrus’ for perusal by consumers. The legislation preempts local ordinances in order to create a uniform statewide standard for displaying nutritional information instead of a patchwork of local ordinances, although nothing in the bill would prevent a restaurant from providing additional information if they so choose.

The Governor also signed SB 441, a new law requiring each vendor who operates or maintains a vending machine on state property to satisfy the requirement that at least 35 per cent of the food and at least one-third of the beverages offered in the vending machines meet accepted nutritional guidelines by January 1, 2011.

With statistics suggesting obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in California, the State has begun implementing a host of new initiatives to tackle the issue. The calorie count legislation follows removing junk food and sugary sodas from school campuses; eradicating trans fats in school meals and phasing out the use of trans fats in all California restaurants beginning in 2010 and from all baked goods by 2011; investing in fruits and vegetables in school meals; and adopting physical education standards for the first time. There is also a proposal to implement a new health care reform plan.

The legislation was agreed to by all stakeholders after a drawn out process, with the National Restaurant Association (NRA) outlining their support for the plan.

“We support the legislation’s goal to replace a patchwork of inconsistent local ordinances,” Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the NRA, said. “Yet, when different rules exist in other parts of the country, it makes it difficult for consumers to compare options. Consumers deserve a federal standard that provides access to the same nutrition information no matter where they are or where they live.”

“We can help consumers make smart, healthy food choices by establishing a uniform, national standard that will offer a broad range of detailed nutrition information in chain restaurants, and flexibility for the restaurants to provide that information.”