‘I will never put calories on my menu’: Irish chefs reject law change

A row over calories on restaurant menus has erupted as legislation looms

The Restaurants Association of Ireland is concerned about the cost of showing calorie counts. Photograph: iStock

The Restaurants Association of Ireland is concerned about the cost of showing calorie counts. Photograph: iStock

 

“I’ll pay whatever fine I have to, but I will never put calories on my menu. Never.” Chef Wade Murphy, who runs Restaurant 1826 in Adare, Co Limerick with his wife Elaine, is adamant that he will resist forthcoming legislation which will make it mandatory to display calorie counts on menus in restaurants, cafes, take-aways and bars where food is served.

On Monday, the Department of Health invited owners of food-service businesses to complete a questionnaire on the proposal, the results of which will be taken into consideration in any forthcoming legislation. However chefs and restaurateurs across the country have been expressing strong objections and have taken to social media to protest against the move.

“I will be adding an opt-out declaration on the booking system before guest make a reservation. It will be explain that the menu could exceed the daily level intakes and that will be it,” says Damien Grey, chef proprietor of Michelin-starred Liath restaurant in Dublin.

Eamon O’Reilly, owner of Michelin two-star The Greenhouse and One Pico, both in Dublin, is also resisting the proposed legislation. “We won’t be doing it, as stated many times before, we will never put calories on the menus.”

Kevin O’Toole, who closed his Chameleon restaurant in Temple Bar last October, after 25 years in business, believes the scheme is unworkable. “The disconnect between this Government and the restaurant industry just seems to be getting bigger and bigger. They appear to have no notion as to what running a restaurant entails.”

Wade and Elaine Murphy of Restaurant 1826 in Adare, Co Limerick
Wade and Elaine Murphy of Restaurant 1826 in Adare, Co Limerick

Department of Health strategy

Mandatory posting of calories on menus in Irish restaurants has been under consideration since 2015, when the then-government decided to legislate for it, following poor take-up of a voluntary opt-in scheme. It is now part of the national Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016-2025.

“This has been debated and discussed for quite some time. But I will be publishing legislation later this year to introduce calorie posting,” Minister for Health Simon Harris told The Irish Times in February of last year.

That deadline was not met, but on Monday there were indications that the issue is back on the agenda, when the Government published a consultation document, inviting owners of food businesses to complete a wide-ranging questionnaire on the issue and voice their concerns.

“The results of this consultation will assist in the development of the draft legislation,” the communication from the Department of Health states. “The time frame for the introduction of calorie posting has yet to be determined but a substantial lead-in time will be provided following the enactment of the legislation to allow businesses to prepare.”

The move, although deeply unpopular with food-service business, has met with public approval. In 2012, a public consultation by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland revealed that “a vast majority” of consumers were in favour of calories on menus, in order to make informed choices.

In September of last year, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute revealed that people order less and consume fewer calories when information on calorie content is included on menus.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) is opposed to the idea. “It looks like the proposed legislation for presenting calories on menus is being rammed through by the Government, with little thought about the negative effects it will have,” chief executive Adrian Cummins said on Tuesday.

The RAI’s concerns include the cost of implementing and monitoring the initiative; the time pressure it will place on chefs and the possibility of it stifling their creativity; and the need to regard calorie counting as just one part of a healthy diet.

As an alternative, it proposes greater emphasis be placed on food education. “We want to see Home Economics or a Food Science equivalent mandatory in second-level, and we need more comprehensive food education on the primary education syllabus,” Cummins says.

The consultation document and questionnaire will be open until 5pm on Friday, February 14th, and the Department of Health will subsequently publish a report with analysis of the responses.

Irish Times
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