March 12, 2009

Legislators in Congress have reintroduced LEAN–Labeling Education and Nutrition Act–and competing bills are currently negotiating their way through Capitol Hill. The proposed law would require restaurants (well, only those chains with twenty or more stores) to do what the Nutrition Labeling Education Act did twenty years ago for store bought foods: provide a basic nutritional breakdown. One might think such a measure would rile the restaurant industry, which relies heavily on the thoughtless consumption of fat and sodium-laden products. Every major restaurant association in the US, however, has offered its wholehearted endorsement of this proposed law. And this of course makes me wonder: will this law be good for consumers?

One interesting thing to note about the proposed LEAN legislation is that the federal standards would preclude more stringent local regulations. So if Austin, Texas decided that it was going to require that restaurants note foods made with high fructose corn syrup, wheat gluten, or milk powder, LEAN could prevent it from doing so. In this sense, the LEAN figures take our attention away from the hidden and possibly dangerous inputs into our food supply and direct it toward a set of caloric stats that–while they may be alarming–are ultimately protective of the underlying horrors of industrial food.  

Another thing to note is that the law would give liability protection to restaurants that follow the  law. My sense here is that franchises are concerned that some health organization might get a notion to equate triple cheeseburgers with cancer sticks, and organize a class action suit of heart disease victims against the fast food chains whose food clogged their arteries.  I suppose one way to look at this issue is to hope that consumers will experience some pause at the fact their favorite burger contains 110% of their daily fat intake. Then again, see the story below.

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