FDA Sued Over Delay in Fast-Food Nutrition Labeling

WASHINGTON (CN) – Two consumer advocacy groups sued the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday over its delay in implementing a rule requiring nutrition labeling on food served at chain restaurants.

The requirement, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was to have gone into effect on May 7. But four days before, the FDA abruptly announced a one-year delay to give the agency more time to look at ways to clarify and potential reduce business obligations.

The rules are now scheduled to go into effect on May 7, 2018.

But in a federal complaint filed on June 7, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the National Consumers League say the delay will deprive consumers of essential information needed to limit their consumption of unhealthy fats, added sugars and sodium, endangering public health.

The plaintiffs claim most people are unaware of how many calories they consume any given day, let alone the amounts of sodium and sugar.

They say the rules are needed because consumers typically eat one-third of their meals away from home.

The Nutrition Labeling Rule requires certain chain restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, movie theaters, and similar food retail establishments to display the calorie content of standard menu items and provide information about calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein in writing upon request.

While the plaintiffs concede the rules have been delayed several times in the past, they now fear they will never go into effect.

“The Trump administration’s delay of menu labeling ill serves consumers, who need and want better information about their food choices,” said CSPI Director of Nutrition Policy Margo Wootan.

“But the delay also ill serves the restaurant industry, which supports menu labeling and has already invested in new menus and menu boards.  By siding with convenience stores and supermarkets over restaurant chains, the Trump administration is randomly sowing chaos,” Wootan said.

According to the complaint, the defendants violated the Administrative Procedure Act “by departing from its prior interpretation of the ACA and its prior conclusions about the importance of nutrition labeling without providing a rational explanation … In addition, the FDA violated the APA by issuing the Delay Rule — a final agency action with legally binding effect — without complying with mandatory rule making procedures, including advance notice and an opportunity for public comment before the Delay Rule took effect.”

“There is absolutely no justification for further delaying this menu labeling rule,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League.  “Consumers overwhelmingly say they use and want nutrition information about the food they are eating or buying when they’re out at restaurants or getting takeout; and many of the leading restaurants and trade associations are already providing calories and other facts about what’s on the menu.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to vacate the delay decision and order that the rule go into effect within 15 days of the judge’s ruling.

“The recent delay in the rule is yet another example of the Trump administration’s willingness to accommodate even unfounded and partial industry opposition to the detriment of the health and welfare of people and families across the country,”  said Peter Lehner of Earthjustice, the non-profit representing the plaintiffs.

A representative of the FDA did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

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