A federal judge, siding with consumer advocacy groups, ordered the government Tuesday to follow through on a 1993 plan to require restaurants to back up any health and nutrition claims on their menus.
But exactly what restaurants would have to do to comply remained unclear since the Food and Drug Administration has yet to finalize the rules it proposed three years ago.
At issue was the FDA’s decision to exempt menus from the labeling requirements of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. The law brought simpler, easy-to-understand “Nutrition Facts” labels to packaged and processed foods in 1994 and imposed strict requirements on health and nutrition claims by their makers.
The FDA had reasoned that since menus change frequently, such requirements might deter restaurants - especially smaller ones - from providing useful, nutrition-related information via menus.
But the agency reversed its interpretation in June 1993, partly because of pressure from the two consumer groups, Public Citizen and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The FDA proposed rules extending the law to restaurant menus, but they have not been finalized.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman sided with the groups Tuesday, and ordered the FDA to amend NLEA’s labeling requirements within 30 days.
“The court finds that the language of the (law) is clear and that Congress intended to include restaurant menus in the NLEA nutrition and health labeling provisions,” Friedman said.
A spokesman for the National Restaurant Association criticized the regulations as expensive and timeconsuming for member restaurants, but promised full compliance.
“We don’t deal with standardized products with standard boxes,” said Jeff Prince of the 35,000-member trade group. “We deal with chefs in kitchens who are artists.”
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