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Old 02-03-2005, 10:23 PM
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Weighty matter -- NJ may make restaurant chains post nutritional info

I can't see this accomplishing anything if it becomes law. Except maybe that fast food places would wise up and charge more for lower-calorie meals.
Proposal would divulge calories
Lawmakers target restaurant menus.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
By TERRENCE DOPP
The Express-Times

TRENTON -- If two state lawmakers get their way, New Jersey's fast-food consumers could come down with a case of calorie sticker shock when perusing menus.

Assemblymen Douglas Fisher and William Payne have introduced a bill in Trenton that would require any restaurant chain with more than 20 outlets to post calorie counts and other nutritional information on menu boards.

The measure is intended as a way to shrink Americans' ever-expanding waistlines.

Fisher, D-3 of Bridgeton, pointed to his favorite restaurant order -- cheese fries at 3,000 calories -- as proof of why the bill is needed.

"If I saw that, maybe I'd change my order," he said Wednesday during a Statehouse news conference in which he and Payne were joined by nutritionists.

"We do not want to legislate the dietary habits of the state of New Jersey," Fisher added. "But we're not going to see (changes) industrywide until something like this is passed."

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. The percentage of children deemed overweight or obese jumped from 4 percent to 15 percent in the past 20 years, according to the CSPI.

In all, treating diseases related to this burgeoning weight problem -- such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer -- costs taxpayers an estimated $100 million annually, Fisher said.

"Without nutritional information it's difficult to compare your options and make an informed choice," Claudia Malloy, director of grass-roots advocacy for the CSPI, said. "Most of the largest chain restaurants don't provide nutrition information, and those that do make it hard to find."

Sponsors said the bill would apply to eateries ranging from sit-down establishments such as TGI Fridays to traditional fast-food places such as Wendy's and McDonald's.

Under the legislation, all eateries with more than 20 locations under a common brand name would need to contract with a private firm to conduct nutritional analyses listing the calorie count, sodium content and amount of fat within all regular dishes.

Those numbers would then be posted on menus and, in the case of restaurants such as McDonald's and Burger King, the calorie figures would be displayed next to prices on menu boards.

One industry group called the proposed regulations unnecessary and said consumers have already begun demanding more information to accommodate dietary needs.

"People have to take a certain level of responsibility. Increasingly, these types of bills are decreasing peoples' need to take responsibility," said Dale Florio, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Restaurant Association.

"Increasingly, restaurants are providing this information on menus and at the request of customers. We're looking at the market continuing to work and respond to consumers as opposed to these types of new state regulations."

No legislative hearings have been set on the legislation.

A message placed at the Illinois headquarters of the McDonald's Corp. was not returned.

Exempted from the listing provisions would be smaller eateries.

Food servers would also be exempt from listing the nutritional information of daily specials, temporary menu items or food and beverages from a self-service salad bar or buffet.

Assemblyman Michael Doherty said the bill goes too far in advocating a government solution to the obesity problem facing New Jersey and the nation.

"I'm concerned about the burden it's placing on businesses. New Jersey is not the friendliest place to do business," said Doherty, R-Warren/Hunterdon. "This is going to be another burden placed on businesses that will make it much more difficult for them to operate." Terrence Dopp is Trenton correspondent for The Express-Times. He can be reached at 609-292-5154 or by e-mail at tdopp@sjnewsco.com.

Copyright 2005 NJ.com. All Rights Reserved.

http://www.nj.com/news/expresstimes/...5069252910.xml
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