Calorie count menus on the way

 

The display of calorie information on menus is set to become widespread in fast-food outlets and cafés across Ireland as part of a new initiative to combat obesity.

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly today opened a consultation process on the issue, which will canvass opinions on the best way of putting calorie information on menus. And restaurants will have to comply with the recommendations whether they want to or not.

“This train is leaving the station,” Dr Reilly said, adding, “if industry doesn't comply, we will legislate”.

Obesity is a growing problem for Ireland's already over-burdened public health system, with two out of every three men, and over half of all women either over-weight or obese in Ireland.

“Displaying calories on menus has been shown to be effective in other countries in this regard. We want to emulate that success here and I have already had a very positive response from fast food outlets and cafés and would strongly encourage the wider food service sector in Ireland to embrace this initiative,” Dr Reilly said.

Responding to fears that displaying calorie content on menus might change consumer spending habits, Dr Reilly said it could be used as an advantage.

“I see it as a marketing opportunity for some chains,” he said.

Late last year, Dr Reilly wrote to 24 fast food outlets and cafés, requesting that they consider including calories on their menus. Four declined to respond, but the consultation process, which will run until February 29th, will give both consumers and the food industry to give their views on how 'calories on menus' can be best implemented in Ireland.

Attending today's launch, Ray Farrelly, head of communications with McDonalds Restaurants Ireland, said he was “delighted” that the consultation process had begun, adding that the fast-food chain will be making a submission on the initiative.

In Britain, McDonalds already displays its calorie information on menus, follwing five years of consultation with the UK authorities.

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, also welcomed the consultation process, but questioned whether it would prove to be too costly for smaller outlets.

“I fear that my members will incur huge costs in implementation,” he said, pointing out that a move to displaying calories on menus cost one restaurant in Dublin €10,000.

He recommended that the initiative should first be launched in public sector catering outlets, “to get all the teething problems out of the way”, and also queried whether or not legislation was really required.

“That should be the last part of this new process,” he said.