Thursday, January 25, 2007

Menu Labeling: Who's Behind the "Research?"

In doing an analysis of the public health research that the NYC Department of Health is relying on for its menu labeling advocacy, we came across the fact that the agency cites two co-authors (and only these two) no less than five times in its assertion that "leading experts" support "nutritional labeling." This research is the only research citation the agency gives us, but it also refers us to a "report" done by the advocacy Center for Science in the Public Interest that says that the public wants this information.

Is this the kind of "analysis" that a city agency feels justifies turning an entire industry upside-down? Even worse, in the body of the Department's notice, there is a chart that purports to show how menu labeling would work. Only thing wrong-it is exactly the chart that CSPI uses in its own propaganda.

Unfortunately the chart is a bogus rendition of the "simplicity" of calorie charting, and fails to highlight the vast diversity of menu offerings and the inescapable bewilderment that would emerge from any attempt to post on the complexity of this diversity of choices. After all, Starbucks has around 84,000 different drink choices.

The Department's reaction to this problem is to allow for the posting of a "range" of calories for, as an example, the twenty or so different burrito offerings at Taco Bell. This range posting, however, would be nothing but thoroughly confusing to any consumer (Perhaps 200-800 calories, and with the consumer no further enlightened about her particular choice). And this is true for every fast food restaurant.

Why is the DOH relying on the "research" of an anti-business "consumer" group, a reliance that it would never allow if the advocacy was coming from a business organization. This is all part of the ideologically-driven misconception that self-described "consumer" or "public interest" groups aren't as self-serving as any other special interest would be.

Which gets us to the two researchers that the Department relies on to indicate that the menu labeling regulation would be efficacious. In doing some research we found that one of the co-authors, Scott Burton is, of all things, the Sam Walton Chair of Marketing at the University of Arkansas. So is this a researcher that the New York City Council wants to rely on for a measure that will cost franchisees tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs?

We're going to find out since it now appears that Councilman Joel Rivera's alternative bill, one that is less restrictive and more comprehensive at the same time, will be introduced at the next stated council meeting. Let the games begin!