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Retailers Support New Menu-Labeling Bill

WASHINGTON — Food Marketing Institute and National Grocers Association said Wednesday they are endorsing new legislation that would exempt supermarkets from the menu-labeling requirements that were included in the new health care reform law.

The bill, entitled “Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2012,” was introduced Tuesday by Reps. John Carter, R-Texas, and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and 18 additional co-sponsors. It seeks to reform the part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that lumps mainstream supermarkets in with restaurants in requiring them to post the caloric content of prepared foods. Food retailers contend that the law was specifically designed to apply only to restaurants and not to supermarkets, which often vary their prepared-food recipes by location and based upon available ingredients, making it more difficult to adhere to the proposed calorie-labeling requirements.

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According the retailer groups, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration misinterpreted the law when it expanded the rule for the law’s implementation beyond restaurants to “similar retail food establishments.” That term has been defined as including supermarkets, but FMI said it should be defined as including only those outlets whose business primarily involves offering restaurant-style foods.

“We support Congressman Carter’s efforts and applaud such a diverse, bipartisan backing of this bill,” said Dya Campos, director of public affairs for H.E. Butt Grocery Co., in a prepared statement released by FMI. “Food retailers have a deep commitment to the health of their customers, but with FDA’s proposed interpretation, we’d be forced to be formulaic with our recipes, which is not what our customers typically expect from among our fresh, in-store-made options.”

Peter LarkinNGA also applauded the bill. "NGA commends Rep. Carter for his leadership to ensure that the FDA does not exceed its authority under the statute by expanding this provision beyond chain restaurants," said Peter J. Larkin, NGA president and chief executive officer. "This legislation will ensure independent retail grocers are not subjected to millions of dollars in new and unnecessary expenses and administrative burdens because of regulatory overreach.”

Jennifer Hatcher, FMI senior vice president of government and political affairs, said the financial burdens of the law would be “extraordinary” for supermarkets.

“We appreciate this bipartisan legislative effort that recognizes supermarkets are not restaurants, acknowledging the 95% of supermarket offerings that are labeled with full nutrition facts, not just calories, and we urge FDA to acknowledge the same in their final rule.”

FMI estimated that it would cost the supermarket industry about $1 billion in the first year alone.

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