Regulations from the Food and Drug Administration that vastly expand calorie labeling laws are now in effect, and businesses covered by the law – including bakeries, chain restaurants, vending machine operators, amusement parks, and more – have until November of next year to come into compliance. The stated purpose is to fight the obesity epidemic, but not everyone is happy with the changes.
The new rules will compel affected manufacturers and food outlets to post the calorie contents of their products in a conspicuous manner, a step many restaurants have already taken in an effort to give customers more information. The grocery and convenience store industries have long opposed the regulations, clearly concerned that people will be less willing to buy high-calorie foods if the numbers are staring them in the face. But while I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them in that respect, I do have a number of concerns about how burdensome these regulations will be.
Rising Costs to Follow?
First things first: this kind of regulation is vastly preferable to the kind of food bans New York’s Michael Bloomberg tried to enact. Nothing about these calorie laws restrict personal freedom, and that’s the most important thing. Having said that, it isn’t going to be cheap for these industries to meet the demands. Reps for the supermarket industry have concluded that it could cost as much as a billion dollars to get the job done. Rest assured, those costs will hit us right in the pocketbook.
There’s also the question of whether this is really necessary. Americans are getting more conscientious all the time about what they eat. While I support the idea of having calorie counts on as many food products as possible, I think it would be preferable to let Americans vote with their dollars. Places like Panera Bread didn’t put calorie counts on their menu board for some higher moral reason; they did it because they thought their customers would like it. That’s the way it’s supposed to happen in the free market.
Furthermore, is it really going to make a difference? Do people buy tubs of movie theater popcorn under the mistaken impression that its good for them? Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that adult obesity rates have nearly tripled since the FDA introduced laws requiring Nutrition Labels in 1990. I’m not theorizing a connection, but it’s clear the labels did little to help.
At a time when Americans can scarcely afford to see higher food prices, this seems like a tone-deaf ruling. You can find calorie counts on almost everything you could possibly put in your mouth with a 10-second Google search. For anything else, use your common sense. I mean, there is still some of that left in this country, right?