Government approves Heads of Bill for calorie posting on menus
Proposals to require restaurants, take-aways and all food service outlets to post calorie details of all meals on menus were approved at the Government’s Cabinet meeting this week.
The laws will require restaurants, take-aways and food service outlets to post the information alongside the price for all items offered on menus, at the point where the food is ordered, whether at tables or counters.
“I am very concerned about levels of overweight and obesity in Ireland. Latest figures indicate that nearly two out of every three adults, and one in four children, are overweight or obese. This presents real risks for health and wellbeing and causes a high percentage of many of the chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes,” Minister Varadkar said.
“Giving calorie details on menus is a very simple but effective way of encouraging people to choose a healthier option. 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.
“The Government has listened to industry concerns about extra costs. That’s why the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has developed an online calorie counting model known as MenuCal, which allows food providers to calculate the calorie content of a meal. It’s a user-friendly app and it’s free of charge.
“People are free to choose what they eat, and that’s only right. But public consultation tells us that 95% 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 8% doing so, the time is right to make the healthier choice the easier choice.”
Extensive research shows that no single measure on its own is sufficient to reduce the levels of overweight and obesity, but there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that the public benefits from information about calories at the point of choice.
Drafting of calorie posting legislation will start immediately and should be ready for enactment in 2016. The proposed laws 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.
Calorie posting is one of a range of measures on obesity planned for 2015. Others include revised Healthy Eating Guidelines and a new Obesity Policy and Action Plan.
There is no single approach which can successfully address the obesity crisis on its own. However, a small but sustained positive change in the eating behaviour of a large number of individuals can have a major effect on the obesity crisis – calorie labelling on menus or calorie posting offers this potential. Direct action on overweight and obesity can only be taken by people themselves, but it is possible to assist people to make better food choices as part of the action against obesity. Calories on menus highlight the downside of overly large portions. This information also enlightens people that ‘less is more’ when it comes to portion sizes and their effects on our health. The international evidence shows that calorie posting can positively affect consumer food choice without negatively impacting business profitability and mandatory calorie posting on menus in the US has proven to be an important initiative as part of their programme to tackle obesity.
In late 2011, the Department of Health wrote to a range of fast food restaurants requesting that they display calories on menus on a voluntary basis. This prioritised the 19 fast food restaurant chains, coffee shops chains and catering companies and requested their participation in the Calories on Menus Scheme. It included the fast food restaurant chains operating in Ireland which have parent companies in the US participating in the scheme.
Public Consultation and Evaluation
In February 2012, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) was asked to carry out a national consultation, which found that over 95% of consumers in Ireland wanted calories on menus. Following on from this, the then Minister called on food service businesses to display calories on food and drinks served in Ireland to help people make healthier choices when eating out. The FSAI published a step-by-step guide on how to do this: Putting Calories on Menus in Ireland – Technical Guidance for food businesses.
The FSAI conducted a large telephone survey and evaluating the uptake of calorie menu labelling by Food Service Businesses in Ireland between October 2012 and January 2013, with the final survey results available in April, 2013.
- Of the ‘big chains’ 11 out of 19 were displaying calories on menus, which represented 818 individual outlets.
- By category, 76% of large chain fast food outlets, 50% of chain coffee-shops and 43% of catering companies displayed calories on menus.
- The results of the evaluation, however, showed that overall only 8% were currently displaying calories and a further 12% were in the process of implementing this. However, a further 50% of businesses were in favour of calorie Menu labelling (i.e. currently preparing to display/would like to display calories).
- The main reason given by food businesses that wanted to provided calories on menus but didn’t have any plans to do so was that they needed support to work out the calorie calculations.
The main outcome of the evaluation was that the majority of food businesses (58%) are in favour of calorie menu labelling, however when considering the technical aspects of implementing such a scheme, it was considered difficult or unrealistic.
As a response to the concerns from SME’s the FSAI developed a software tool – MenuCal – a free online calorie calculator designed to allow small food businesses to calculate the calories on their menu items themselves which was launched in 2014.