Grocery Industry: Menu-Labeling Rule Draft Guidance Not Enough

Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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Grocers responded to the supplemental draft guidance released this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the chain restaurant menu-labeling rule by urging the agency to address food retailers’ ongoing concerns about the rule.

Of the latest draft guidance, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said,We’ve heard the concerns [of commenters], took them to heart, and are responding with practical solutions to make it easier for industry to meet their obligations in these important public-health endeavors.”

As an example of a practical solution, Gottlieb noted: “Supermarket and convenience store managers with self-service buffets or beverage stations asked whether they needed to have an individual sign next to each item with a calorie declaration. While this is one way to comply with the regulation, our draft guidance offers other practical ways to post calories for multiple items on a single sign. For instance, a single sign posting that is visible while consumers are making their selection is one way to comply that may provide additional flexibility for some establishments.”

The commissioner added: “As a whole, this draft guidance reflects our commitment to establishing a practical and sustainable framework for implementing the new menu-labeling provisions. With these resources, we believe covered establishments are well positioned to implement the requirements by the May 7, 2018 compliance date.”

While they acknowledged FDA’s efforts to answer some of their questions regarding compliance with the rule, grocery industry groups wanted further changes and assurances.

“When FDA opened a comment period in May to review potential changes to the chain restaurant menu-labeling rule itself, we participated in this process by submitting32 pages of substantive commentsthat would help reduce the regulatory burden and increase flexibility in how food retailers provide meaningful nutrition information to their customers,” responded Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute, pledging that the trade association would “continue to work with Congress and FDA to complete the actions needed to provide the intended flexibility, certainty and enforcement protections that would allow food retailers and restaurants the confidence to fulfill our shared commitment to complete implementation once and for all.”

“We appreciate FDA’s efforts to address our concerns through agency guidance, including their attempts to clarify which establishments are covered by the menu-labeling rule,” said Greg Ferrara, SVP government relations and public affairs at Arlington-based National Grocers Association. “Unfortunately, industry concerns with the underlying rule are too fundamental to be addressed by agency guidance. Since FDA is unwilling to go back to the drawing board with the rulemaking process, we will continue to advocate for Congress passing the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act before the May 2018 compliance date. NGA’s members are committed to providing their customers with accurate nutritional information, but supermarkets need the flexibility to implement the rule across a multitude of store formats, all of which operate much differently than a chain restaurant.”

Unsurprisingly, advocacy groups viewed the draft guidance differently

Margo G. Wootan, VP of nutrition for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, asserted that “the Food and Drug Administration has answered industry questions about how to comply with the menu-labeling rule. Supermarkets, convenience stores, movie theaters and restaurants should have the answers they need in time to post nutrition information before next May. … Consumers need and want calorie information when they eat out and this is a positive sign that FDA will work with industry to give consumers that information.”