Calorie count plan to have ‘devastating impact’ on restaurants

Royal College of Physicians says mandatory rule a step forward in ‘tackling obesity’

Government plans to make it mandatory for restaurants to display calorie counts on menus will have a “devastating impact” on the industry, the Restaurant Association of Ireland has warned. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Government plans to make it mandatory for restaurants to display calorie counts on menus will have a “devastating impact” on the industry, the Restaurant Association of Ireland has warned. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

 

Government plans to make it mandatory for restaurants to display calorie counts on menus will have a “devastating impact” on the industry, the Restaurant Association of Ireland has warned.

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland however welcomed the plans, approved at Cabinet this week, to require calorie counts on all menus from next year as “an incredibly positive step forward in tackling...obesity”.

The requirement that restaurants, take-aways and all food service outlets to post calorie details of all meals on menus should be in place by next year, the Department of Health said. Drafting of calorie posting legislation would start immediately.

All menus

The proposed law will require all menus, including boards, leaflets, digital menus or other forms, to display the amount of calories alongside the price in the same font size and colour. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the voluntary approach ,where some food outlets were already displaying calorie content, was insufficient.

“Giving calorie details on menus is a very simple but effective way of encouraging people to choose a healthier option,” he said. “Food options can be deceptive. Some salads contain more calories than a burger meal. But if we make the information clearly available, at the very least people can make an informed choice. It won’t work in every case but it’s a powerful tool which has proved very effective in the US.

He rejected the suggestion from the Restaurants Association, that this was a “nanny State” approach.

Free choice

“People are free to choose what they eat, and that’s only right. But public consultation tells us that 95 per cent of consumers want calories displayed on menus. The current voluntary model is not working. Some of the fast food chains in Ireland have been providing information on calorie content. But with only eight per cent doing so, the time is right to make the healthier choice the easier choice.”

The news was welcomed by the RCPI’s policy group on obesity. The group’s co-chair, Prof Donal O’Shea, said he was thrilled.

“I am thrilled at this incredibly positive step forward in tackling the obesity problem in Ireland. Evidence has shown that making people aware of calorie content can help them to make more informed, healthier decisions about the foods that they eat. Parents will be more aware of calories in the foods that they are giving their children,” he said.

“This measure alone will have a direct impact on obesity levels in Ireland - but more importantly it shows that the Minister for Health will move quickly on areas he is convinced by - and in a condition as complicated as obesity we need actions in many areas.”

Unworkable legislation

The Restaurants Association said the legislation would be unworkable. Association chief executive Adrian Cummins said it would impose costs of €5,000 on each restaurant.

“The Nanny State proposals will be an unnecessary burden on the restaurant owners, as the measures will be virtually impossible to monitor. I urge the government to reconsider this Bill in the interest of the restaurant industry and tourism,” he said.

“How does the government propose that this will be monitored? Will inspectors be paid to eat out in all of Ireland’s 22,000 food outlets and check if each menu has calorie counts on them?”

Mr Cummins said any chef would tell you that menus in restaurants vary day-to-day and “therefore calorie counting would be highly inaccurate anyway”.