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H.R. 2017 (114th): Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015

Legislation scheduled for a House vote this week seeks to change the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) labeling requirements for nutrition information displayed by restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores, and pizzerias. The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 (H.R. 2017) would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue new rules to allow a food establishment to post nutritional information exclusively on its website if the majority of its orders are placed online, would clarify that Facebook advertisements are not menus, and aims to protect establishments from being sued for human error.

The case for reform

“In their current form, menu labeling regulations are fundamentally impractical and unnecessarily expensive,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), sponsor of the bill, during a committee markup in November. “Compliance with [FDA’s current regulations] is estimated to cost American businesses more than $1 billion and 500,000 hours of paperwork. This is time, energy, and financial resources that should be spent on creating jobs and building up the economy–not on paperwork.”

What opponents say

Opponents of the bill argue that it would weaken FDA’s current rules covering nutritional labeling by, for example, allowing food establishments to create deceptive serving sizes.

“H.R. 2017 contains numerous provisions that both decrease consumer access to nutritional information and increase the likelihood of inconsistent or confusing menu labels,” states the “dissenting views” section of the committee report. “Current law requires that the number of calories contained in the standard menu item, as usually prepared and offered for sale, to be displayed. The bill as amended would change this requirement to allow restaurants and retail food establishments to choose how the calorie information is displayed — either in the whole standard menu item, or the number of servings as determined by the establishment and number of calories per serving, or the number of calories per the common unit.”

The changes called for by the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act could take several years to fully implement, according to the Congressional Budget Office, because they would substantially alter the current regulations and FDA would have to develop a new set of rules and accompanying guidance.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has introduced a companion measure (S. 2217) in the Senate. That bill currently awaits consideration by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Last updated Feb 9, 2016. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 12, 2016.

Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015

(Sec. 2) This bill amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to revise the nutritional information that chain restaurants and retail food establishments must disclose. The nutrient content disclosure statement on the menu or menu board must include: (1) the number of calories contained in the whole menu item; (2) the number of servings and number of calories per serving; or (3) the number of calories per common unit of the item, such as for a multi-serving item that is typically divided before presentation to the consumer. Nutritional information may be provided solely by a remote-access menu (e.g., an Internet menu) for food establishments where the majority of orders are placed by customers who are off premises.

Establishments with self-serve food may comply with the requirements for restaurants or place signs with nutritional information adjacent to each food item.

Reasonable variations in the actual nutrient content of items are permissible, including variations in serving size or ingredients or variations due to inadvertent human error.

Establishments with standard menu items that come in different flavors, varieties, or combinations, that are listed as a single menu item can determine and disclose nutritional information using specified methods or methods allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Regulations pursuant to this Act cannot take effect earlier than two years after final regulations are promulgated.

The FDA must give establishments in violation of nutritional labeling requirements 90 days to correct violations.

The FDA may no longer allow states or localities to vary from federal nutritional labeling requirements for chain restaurants.

(Sec. 3) Restaurants and retail food establishments are not liable in a civil action for claims regarding federal or state nutritional labeling requirements unless the action is brought by the United States or a state.