Government-mandated menu labeling represents the latest attempt by food cops to dictate our diets. Today’s Wall Street Journal features a report on this trend, outlining the counties and cities that have already passed labeling mandates into law — and the 21 other proposals that are still pending at the city, state, and federal levels. California State Senator Alex Padilla, author of a California proposal, admits to the Journal that menu-labeling advocates are “walking the fine line of [avoiding] telling people what they can or cannot eat, or telling the restaurants what they can or cannot serve.” But a recent string of civil torts suggests that “telling the restaurants what they can or cannot serve” is exactly what will happen if menu labeling is enacted on a large scale.
Earlier this year, eight Scripps television affiliates investigated the accuracy of nutrition information posted on menus and found that the actual dishes varied from posted menu tallies by as much as three times the listed amounts. (The difference is understandable once you realize the lab included free sides — like complimentary bread, butter, and cheeses — in its tests, even though the restaurants rightly list the nutrition facts for those items separately.)
Nevertheless, this opened the floodgates. Last week, a Seattle law firm filed two class-action lawsuits against several major restaurant chains for “misrepresenting nutritional content of menu items.”
Offering a variety of side orders and other options is good for consumer choice. But now restaurants are learning that “made to order” may translate to “willful negligence” when nutrition facts enter into the picture.
These ridiculous legal cases have the potential to establish a dangerous precedentin the form of an unintended menu-labeling consequences. If offering consumers nutritional information exposes restaurants to claims of “engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices,” the recent string of menu-labeling laws highlighted by the Journal will effectively turn our favorite eateries into sitting ducks.