Eateries face laws on showing calories

  • Post category:News

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Restaurants and fast food outlets are being asked to voluntarily advertise the calorie count of their food ”” or face legislation forcing them to do so.

Health Minister James Reilly said he would introduce laws requiring calorie counts on food and alcohol if larger chains and outlets were not “playing ball” by the end of the year .

He made the comments following the publication of the results of a national consultation on displaying calories on menus, which showed overwhelming public support for the measure.

Mr Reilly said the move was essential due to public health concerns over obesity.

“We might very well be the first generation to bury the generation behind us and that is not the natural order of things,” he said.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland warned it could cost €5,000 a year to measure and display calorie counts on menus and could mean cuts to staff numbers or work hours as a result.

The Irish Hotels Federation said customers, par-ticularly those eating at high-end establishments, should be allowed to see a menu that has calorie counts displayed “on request” and stressed they did not want to see the end of people eating desserts.

The public consultation, carried out by the Food safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), received 3,390 submissions, with 96% calling for calorie menu labelling in all or some food outlets, and 89% saying calories should be displayed beside the price of food and drink items on the menu.

As for alcohol, 84% of consumers said labelling should apply in all or some outlets.

The level of support from the food industry was less enthusiastic: Almost 75% of food service businesses were in favour of calorie menu labelling in all or some food establishments, but when considering the technical aspects of implementing the scheme just half wanted to see it introduced.

Mr Reilly said he would review compliance with the voluntary display of calorie counts at the end of the year.

“It won’t be that costly at all. There is a support group being put together to help with that very topic so people won’t have to worry about the expense. These are always situations where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

He queried why McDonald’s and Subway displayed calorie counts while Burger King, for example, did not.

“It is very clear that the bulk of the public are with us on this. They want to be able to make an informed choice.”

Mary Flynn, FSAI chief specialist in public health nutrition, accepted that some in the food industry “are hanging on by their fingernails in this recession”. She said there were fears over empty restaurants and loss of business, but that consumers had said they wanted to see labelling introduced.

Dr Flynn said the FSAI wanted to use simplified software programmes to help companies and businesses to comply.

Michael Vaughan of the Irish Hotels Federation said: “We don’t want to become health farms.”