Reilly in calorie menu labelling call
Minister for Health James Reilly has given food businesses six months to introduce calorie menu labelling on a voluntary basis, or else face the possible introduction of a compulsory scheme.
Mr Reilly today backed a called by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) for the introduction by food businesses of labelling showing the calorie content of meals and portions they serve.
The authority recommends that the scheme be introduced on a voluntary basis at first to allow for the development of technical tools to help the sector adjust to the change.
Consumers overwhelmingly support the introduction of calorie menus in food outlets, according to a report published by the authority. It shows that 96 per cent of people support calorie labelling in some of all food outlets, while 89 per cent say the information should be displayed beside the food and drink items on the menu. Some 84 per cent of consumers say labelling should apply to alcoholic drinks.
Support for the initiative was significantly lower among food businesses, many of which raised concerns over their lack of expertise in calculating calories, the potential cost, and the time involved in drawing up calorie menus.
The authority says it recognises that food businesses will have to be given technical support in order to overcome these barriers.
Mr Reilly said he couldn't understand why some fast food chains had so far failed to introduce calorie menus then their rivals had done so. Calorie labelling was a simple concept that would help consumers to make healthier choices, eat smaller portions and enjoy food without over-eating, he said.
"It is essential to recognise that a small, but sustained positive change in the eating behaviour of a large number of individuals can have a major effect on our obesity crisis and I strongly believe that calorie menu labelling offers this potential."
The proposals received a cool reception from section of the food industry. The Irish Hotels Federation said it would oppose any attempt down the line to introduce mandatory labelling of calories on menus in hotels and guesthouses.
IHF president Michael Vaughan welcomed the voluntary nature of the proposed scheme but expressed concerns that it could be transformed into a mandatory system once the introductory phase has been completed.
Mr Vaughan warned that the adoption of an indiscriminate, 'one size fits all' approach to mandatory calorie labelling would be entirely inappropriate for hotels and guesthouses, many of whose menus change on a daily basis reflecting the use of locally sourced produce and the seasonally available ingredients.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland claimed it would cost each restaurant about €5,000 to comply with the changes.
"The move will cripple the restaurants industry at a time where revenues are 20% down on 2011, and one restaurant a day is closing, said Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the association.