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San Francisco’s Fast-Food Menu Rule Should Be Upheld, Groups Urge Federal Court

Aug. 1, 2008

San Francisco’s Fast-Food Menu Rule Should Be Upheld, Groups Urge Federal Court

Congressman, Public Health Organizations and Experts Join Public Citizen and CSPI In Support of Rule to Combat Obesity Epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal court should uphold San Francisco’s requirement that fast-food restaurants disclose nutritional information on their menus, according to a brief submitted to a federal court by Public Citizen and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The nonprofit organizations, joined by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, M.D., and several leading health groups and professors, filed the brief Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in response to a lawsuit by the California Restaurant Association.

The fast-food industry claims that San Francisco’s rule is pre-empted by federal law and violates the First Amendment rights of fast-food restaurants. Public Citizen and CSPI contend that federal law does not pre-empt the rule because city authorities stepped into a regulatory gap that Congress intentionally left open to state and local governments when it enacted the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) in 1990. The NLEA requires food manufacturers to provide nutritional information on nearly all packaged foods but explicitly exempts restaurants.

Both Waxman, who was the chief sponsor of the NLEA in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Kessler, who was commissioner of the FDA when the law was passed, have said that the legislation was intended to allow state and local authorities to institute their own nutrition labeling requirements for restaurants. In addition to Waxman and Kessler, the Public Citizen-CSPI brief is signed by a distinguished list of organizations and experts, including the American Diabetes Association, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the Trust for America’s Health and several leading professors of nutrition and public health.

The San Francisco lawsuit is the latest round in the fast-food industry’s campaign to stop cities and states from enacting laws requiring disclosure of calories on fast-food menus. The industry also challenged New York City’s identical rule in two recent lawsuits. In April, a federal judge allowed New York City to begin enforcing its calorie-disclosure rule. That case is now before a federal appeals court in New York and a ruling is expected shortly. The FDA filed a brief in that case supporting the New York rule. Most recently, the restaurant industry has sued Santa Clara County, Calif., over a similar rule.

“It’s astonishing that the fast-food chains are fighting so hard to prevent consumers from learning how many calories are in their products,” said Deepak Gupta, the Public Citizen attorney who wrote the brief. “The same information has been available on the labels of most food in the grocery store for many years. Given the strong link between fast food, the obesity epidemic and serious health problems, San Francisco’s new rule is just plain common sense.”

American adults and children consume about a third of their calories from restaurants and other food service establishments, and studies link frequent eating out with obesity and higher caloric intakes. Without nutrition information, it is difficult for consumers to make informed choices. In requiring fast-food restaurants to disclose calorie information on their menus, San Francisco has joined New York and other cities in addressing one of the largest contributors to the nation’s obesity epidemic. The U.S. Surgeon General and the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine also have recommended that chain restaurants provide more nutrition information.