State legislators in Maine and Connecticut have introduced new bills — inspired by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) — that would require restaurants to stick nutritional information on their menus and menu boards. We’ve seen this kind of proposal before, both at the state and federal level (click here and here for more information), although no such bill has become law. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro say they will reintroduce their menu labeling bills this year. But when you consider that history has labeled similar efforts a big fat flop, it’s not entirely obvious why these self-appointed obesity warriors favor mandatory menu labeling.
Experience suggests that labeling is no fat-fighting panacea. This summer, acting Food and Drug Administration chief Lester Crawford told an obesity conference that labeling packaged foods didn’t stop people from making choices that led to weight gain:
What we did in making nutrition labeling mandatory did not help obesity. In fact, some people would say it hurt … The first thing we notice is this contradiction about the fact that we had mandatory nutrition labeling for ten years, and the situation got steadily worse during that time.
Meanwhile, TIME reported that even CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson made a similar admission. According to the magazine, Jacobson “insists that too many people will look past the calorie, fat, carb and fiber counts on the menu.” (What’s needed instead, he says, are “fat taxes” and obesity lawsuits.)
Mandatory menu labeling won’t slim us down, but it will change the experience of dining out. Here’s what your restaurant menu might look like if food cops have their way.