Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Council to Challenge Calorie Craziness

In today's NY Daily News and NY Post the papers are reporting on a measure, sponsored by the City Council's Health Chair, Joel Rivera, that would create a reasonable methodology for local restaurants to post nutritional information to their customers. While the DOH rule would force restaurants (but only those that currently post nutritional information to their customers-a real sign of fair play) to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards, the Council bill would allow local eateries some degree of flexibility.

The DOH rule, enacted with little thought or proper due diligence, comes without any fiscal evaluation, and the Department never even stopped to consider whether the measure would be costly to comply with; a cost that would be borne by local business owners and not the national corporations. In our view, and we are representing the restaurants in this matter, if the cost to comply with the regulation leads to just one high school kid being let go from his after-school job than the cost is too high.

The reason is that the Department, in adopting this measure whole from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, never bothered to examine the public health research in this area that says that there is simply no definitive data that would lead anyone to say that the posting of this kind of calorie information will lead to any changes in customer behavior.

In fact, the Department, in heralding the rule claimed that "leading experts" supported the concept. When we examine the footnotes, however, we find that a single pair of authors is cited five times. Who are these "experts?" Both of the academics in question are from the Sam Walton School of Marketing of the University of Arkansas!

In fact, aside from the tendentious reports that are put out by the CSPI, there is certainly no expert consensus on the efficacy of this social experiment-unlike the trans fat ban that was preceded by solid scientific research. Which is precisely why the spokesman for Chairman Rivera told the Post that the DOH rule would "create an undue burden to the businesses."

The key word here is "undue." Because without the proper review and evaluation there is no justification to pile millions of dollars of compliance costs on local neighborhood businesses, Certainly, when the mayor is doing all that he can to reduce the regulatory burden for the city's financial sector, he should be as sensitive to the local eateries that employ tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

Finally, the entire concept, as it is envisioned by the DOH, simply makes no sense. Councilman Addabbo's comments to the Daily News are on point: "It's important to have calorie information, but not every customer wants to have the information jammed down their throats...This may be too onerous, too burdensome for restaurant owners."

Taco Bell, for instance, has something like 25 different possible combinations of Burrito. The Department, in recognizing the fact that fast food customers customize their orders, has told the industry that a range of calorie info can be posted. So for Taco Bell's burrito menu item there will be the following listing: 500-1500 calories! What to do about Starbucks 84,000 different drink combinations is still unclear. This is a useless, misleading and expensive social experiment that the Council needs to amend.