Pizza Industry Hopes to Head Off New ObamaCare Regulation that May Force Price Hikes and Slice Off Thousands of Jobs

When Rep. Nancy Pelosi infamously declared that we have to pass ObamaCare in order to find out what's in it, she wasn't kidding. Buried in the mammoth 2700-page law that most in Congress did not bother to read before passing is Section 4205. That section requires any pizzeria, grocery store, or convenience store with more than 20 locations to post calorie information in their stores on menu boards. The way the law is written, it requires the national pizza chains to post fixed information on a whole lot of varieties of pizza. Pizza shops and chains with fewer than 20 outlets would be exempted.

"There are 34 million ways to make a pizza, we've done the math," American Pizza Community spokeswoman Jenny Fouracre-Petko told me in an interview. "There just is no way to put that on a menu board."

She added that menu boards would help virtually no customers at, say, Domino's Pizza make any kind of informed nutritional decision. "Normally, with carry out restaurants, you're not standing in front a menu board. You're ordering over the phone, or online, so an online solution is a much more technologically savvy way to provide the information than an extensive menu board that no one sees. Also, the information on a menu board may not be accurate because of the way pizzas are made. The information may not be accurate if a 16-year-old kid decides to toss on an extra handful of cheese. We don't want a class action lawsuit over something like that."

Indeed. Speaking for myself, I haven't stood inside a Domino's or any other chain carry-out pizza place in at least a decade. Online ordering is the usual method. Online nutritional tools and information would seem the way to go. The fear of lawyers lawyering a handful of cheese or sausage is not unreasonable. In the ObamaCare future, the pizza industry might need its own version of tort reform to bring costs down, if Section 4205 is not stopped. But the FDA is not even disclosing when it will issue its final rule.

The American Pizza Community has tried working with the Food and Drug Administration to fix the expensive regulation, which is set to go into full effect at some point by the end of 2012. But the FDA has not been cooperative, and has not acted on the industry's input. Fouracre-Petko says that the FDA is missing an opportunity to work with an industry that wants to provide information to consumers, just in a way that the consumers can actually use, and which will be easier for the agency to monitor for compliance.

"We really feel strongly that we want to provide nutrition information, and we know how to provide it to our customers in a way that makes sense," she said. "It's frustrating to see the FDA continue down the path of government overreach. There's things about this law with the FDA that we know aren't going to work out. For instance, checking thousands of stores all around the country. The online solution is going to be easier for compliance alone." The FDA would need an army of compliance officers, similar to the 16,000 agents hired by the IRS to look after ObamaCare's new mandate, just to check the menu boards in thousands of stores.