Pizza Lobby to Trump: Hold the FDA Calorie-Labeling Regulations

WASHINGTON – A group of pizza companies, supermarkets and convenience stores is asking the Trump administration to withdraw or delay a compliance deadline for Obama-era calorie-labeling standards, claiming the mandate is nonsensical and adds little value to consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration’s Obamacare-related regulation requires that restaurants with 20 or more locations post in-store menu boards for every single food item and combination served. The rule went into effect Dec. 1, but the FDA has set a deadline of May 5 to begin enforcement.

The group -- which includes Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s Pizza and suppliers like Coca-Cola – argues that, given more time, it can develop a common-sense approach to nutritional labeling. Some opponents say the restaurants are attempting to skirt the rules to avoid disclosing information that would hurt company revenue, while also avoiding the costs of implementation.

Tim McIntyre, chairman of the American Pizza Community, said Tuesday in D.C. that the regulation will result in Domino’s paying $4,000 to $5,000 per store, per year for calorie-labeling menus. According to Statista, there were 384 Domino’s-owned stores and 4,816 franchises in the U.S. in 2015.

Christian Reisch, a Lexington, Ky.-based owner of 10 franchises, said the FDA took two or three lines included in Obamacare and churned out 500 to 600 pages of regulation that burdens small businesses.

“So they take one small, little aspect of the bill, and they blow it completely out of proportion,” Reisch said, adding that Domino’s has been providing nutritional information online for about 14 years.

McIntyre said food-menu labeling makes no sense for a business that receives 90 percent of its orders over the phone and online.

“If the intent is to give people information, when they are making purchase decisions, that is not the way to do it in our industry,” McIntyre said.

Philadelphia-based dietitian Joy Dubost, a spokeswoman for the American Society for Nutrition, said in an interview today that the pizza company’s argument is fair from a business perspective, but she believes in the value of calorie labeling. She said Domino’s is acting under the assumption that its customers don’t care about nutritional facts.

She pointed to a small sample that supports the effect of calorie labeling: a University of Glasgow study from 2014 that analyzed weight gain within a college population over the course of two years. The study’s results showed that increased calorie labeling in the university dining room reduced weight gain by an average of 7.7 pounds over the course of two 36-week academic years.

“I think (calorie labeling) empowers consumers to make smart choices,” she said, adding that the impact of the FDA’s new regulation will not be realized for a few years, and it could be a significant tool in reducing obesity.

Several major restaurant chains are already in compliance with the new FDA rule, including McDonald's, Panera, Dunkin' Donuts and Subway, according to the Chicago Tribune.

When asked why the group hasn’t tried to incorporate changes into the Trump administration’s evolving healthcare policy, Doug Kantor, who represents the National Association of Convenience Stores, said they’ve had conversations with the White House but they haven’t received any definitive answer. Which is troubling, he said, because the group doesn’t have a firm definition from the FDA on what constitutes a food menu, either.

McIntyre said the group asked the regulator for a definition early on in the process and it took a year to get an answer, which still doesn’t provide the necessary clarity.

The American Pizza Community has voiced its support for the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which passed in the House in the 114th Congress but was not considered by the Senate. The group says the legislation gives Congress the opportunity to fix the rule before it goes into effect.

Robert Rosado, senior director of food and health policy for the Food Marketing Institute, a group that represents major grocery stores, said the new rule would cost industry members about $1 billion in compliance, which includes menus, signage, nutritional analysis and training. Supermarkets, he said, operate on a 1 to 2 percent profit margin.

“No one can say, ‘Well you guys can just absorb it,’” he said. “When our folks incur the price of regulation, it’s directly reflected in the prices of our stores, and that’s why you’ll see a different price at one location versus another. It’s all different rules and regulations that they’re dealing with from location to location.”