WASHINGTON (CN) — Fighting back against the Trump administration’s slashing of federal regulations, the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued the government for its year-long delay of a rule requiring chain restaurants, supermarkets and other retailers to post nutritional information about the food they sell.
Joined by the National Consumers League, the scientific group sued Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and the Food and Drug Administration and its Commissioner Scott Gottleib, on Wednesday in Federal Court.
The FDA labeling rule, was required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was to take effect May 5. But on May 4 the FDA published a superseding rule giving the industries another year to comply.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Peter Lehner, with EarthJustice, said the health of Americans should not be sacrificed to industry interests.
“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,” Lehner said in a statement.
“There are monitors that can tell us exactly how many steps we take in a day and how much sleep we get at night, but we are denied the basic right to know how many calories are served at a restaurant.”
The plaintiffs claim that 80 percent of Americans want menu labeling, and the rule was supported by man trade groups, including the National Restaurant Association.
The 25-page lawsuit cites alarming statistics gleaned from the nationwide obesity epidemic, including increased rates of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which claim 700,000 American lives every year.
For instance, according to the complaint: “A slice of carrot cake from the Cheesecake Factory (1,730 calories) contains more than 80 percent of a person’s suggested daily caloric intake.”
Even “salad” can be laden with calories, the groups say: “A regular oriental chicken salad from Applebee’s (1,420 calories) contains approximately 70 percent of a person’s suggested daily caloric intake.”
In short: “Unhealthful menu offerings and the failure to disclose calorie contents and other nutrition information at restaurants and similar retail food establishments contribute significantly to the current obesity epidemic and interfere with individuals’ ability to manage chronic disease.”
Even “highly educated experts” are unaware of the contents of common foods, the groups say. “For instance, according to a study conducted by Plaintiff CSPI, a group of
professional dietitians estimated, on average, that a typical hamburger with a serving of eleven onion rings had 865 calories; in fact, this meal contained a total of 1,550 calories, almost twice the estimated amount.”
The technical claim is that the FDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by delaying enforcement of the congressionally approved Nutrition Labeling Rule, bypassing mandatory rule-making procedures, including opportunities for public comment, before issuing its diktat.
In addition to calorie content, the law requires food establishments to disclose the content of fats, sugars, cholesterol, protein, sodium, carbohydrates and fiber, all of which, the groups say, are matters of public health concern.
Two-thirds of American adults and one-third of American children are overweight or obese today, according to the complaint. Because Americans consume one third of their caloric intake away from home, nutritional information is critical to helping people manage chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
“Without access to nutrition information, individuals with these and other conditions may struggle to make decisions necessary to manage their health while eating out,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs asked the court to vacate the delay as arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the APA, and require the enforcement of the rule by a date certain, no more than 15 days after the order is issued.
The Food and Drug Administration declined to comment.