Friday, November 28, 2008

The battle of menu-labeling acronyms

Prior to the election, Sen. Tom Harkin's reintroduction of a menu-labeling bill would've been akin to the White House's pronouncement that a Thanksgiving turkey would be pardoned. Some symbolic gestures are just a given.

But Harkin's party will control 58 seats in the next Senate, and health is almost certain to be a major focus of the White House and Congress after the Inauguration. Interest in menu labeling has also been rising, in part because of developments on local and state levels, and partly because the restaurant industry itself is trying to avert a hodgepodge of requirements by championing a preemptive federal measure, the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act. In acronym-crazed Washington, it's being pushed as the LEAN Act.

So it was a surprise that more attention hasn't been paid to reports out of Harkin's home state of Iowa that the longtime senator is planning to revive his menu-labeling bill, the Meal Education and Labeling Act, a.k.a. the MEAL Act.

Harkin's bill would require units of chains with at least 20 stores to post the calorie, fat and sodium content for every regular menu item, either on menus or menu boards. Restaurants have opposed it because they say it does not provide enough flexibility in how the nutrition information is presented, and hence would be a crippling financial and logistical burden.

The measure, which has been introduced more often than a popular convention speaker, will be presented to the new Congress when it convenes next year, according to the SWI Iowa News. The LEAN Act has already been introduced into both houses of Capitol Hill, but proponents acknowledged that it wouldn't see any action until the new Congress convenes.

Suddenly, the LEAN Act would look like a compromise measure, enhancing its chances. But the scene certainly suggests that the chances of a labeling bill being passed have never been higher.

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