Give me a crash course in . . . calorie menu labelling
What is calorie menu labelling?At present most Irish menus list the key ingredients of each dish and sometimes their provenance. Soon anywhere selling prepared food will also be expected to list the calories in each item on the menu, so customers can make healthier choices. The recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men.
Why is it being rolled out?Because many of us are unhealthily overweight. Ireland has the second-highest level of obesity in Europe, and the rate is continuing to rise. In the past 20 years rates have doubled among women and tripled among men. Being obese is not only bad for your overall health but also costs the State a significant sum of money each year once people with obesity-related health problems, such as heart disease, stroke or high blood pressure, begin to need treatment.
Where is the initiative coming from?Mostly from Minister for Health James Reilly and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which this week published Calories on Menus in Ireland: A Report on a National Consultation, calling for calorie menu labelling.
It’s also coming from consumers. Of the 3,300 submissions made to the authority while it was preparing the report, most were from consumers.
Ninety-six per cent of consumers surveyed for the report said they supported labelling in some or all premises selling food. There may be even more calorie labelling to come, as 84 per cent of consumers also said they’d like to see it on alcoholic drinks.
When is it meant to happen?The Minister has told food businesses they have six months to put the labelling in place voluntarily. If it’s then noticeable that some premises haven’t “come to the party”, as Reilly described it, legislation will follow.
What’s exempt?All standard menu items will have to carry the labelling. But dishes that change frequently, such as the daily special, will be exempt. So too will self-service buffets and made-to-order sandwiches.
Top-end restaurants want to be exempt, because they claim an occasional fine-dining experience is different from the likes of lunchtime sandwiches, but Reilly has warned them that they too will have to count their calories.
Is anyone else unhappy?Yes, lots more people. The Restaurants Association of Ireland claims the cost of introducing these changes will be a whopping €5,000 per restaurant. The Irish Hotels Federation has already said it will oppose mandatory labelling on menus in hotels and guest houses.
Will we find out anything new in six months’ time? We will finally find out how many calories, officially, are in the infamous full Irish breakfast, long known as the artery-hardening option.