Congressman Mocks Calorie Counts In Hearing To Relax Healthy Labeling Rules

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By Michael McAuliff

WASHINGTON — More than two-thirds of American adults may be obese or overweight, but one of those adults, a congressman from Illinois, still decided Thursday to mock new federal standards that will require fast-food chains to list calorie counts.

“I don’t think I’ve ever in my life read a menu label,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) at an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on a bill that would roll back some of those labeling requirements for pizza chains, supermarkets and convenience stores.

“I don’t think I’ve ever looked for calorie numbers on anything I’ve consumed. And I betcha I’m in the majority of Americans,” Shimkus said. “This is the perfect example of nanny state, of a national government telling individual citizens and saying what is best for them.”

He added that his sons cheerfully charge at multi-spigot soda fountains to craft their own soft-drink concoction, a mix of Sprite, Coke and Powerade that they call “Scowerade.”

“You can’t label for that, can you?” Shimkus asked a panel of witnesses, making the point that it would be difficult to follow the rules.

The bill in question, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), aims to modify a part of Obamacare that requires chains with more than 20 outlets to disclose calorie counts. Her bill responds to complaints from chains like Domino’s that say the Food and Drug Administration rules that aim to put the law into effect starting in December are too complicated.

Unlike Shimkus, though, McMorris Rodgers and the witnesses, as well as most of the other members of Congress present, approved of the idea of giving consumers calorie counts, even if they don’t like the new FDA rules.

One, Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), noted that he benefited as recently as Wednesday night from seeing a calorie count in a restaurant.

“I was at something last evening — they had a menu label up. It was a soda, anywhere from zero to 1,080,” Guthrie said. “That was enough information for me to say, ‘I know which one I wanna get because I want to go closer to zero than the other way,’” he said, adding that he thought “the vast number of American people want” calorie counts.

Aside from Shimkus’ disdain for calorie-counting, the only real dispute was whether the lengthy new rules will be too difficult for eateries to follow.

While pizza chain and convenience store representatives said they would be and would prefer to just detail calories online, a speaker from Dunkin’ Brands, which runs the doughnut chain and Baskin Robbins, said it shouldn’t be a problem at all.

“I remember sitting around a table just like here today, and saying we can’t do this, we can’t do it. We did it,” said Karen Raskopf, whose firm started such labeling in New York City.

And despite Shimkus’ claims, labeling is actually popular among consumers and influences people’s behavior.

The aim of the regulations is to curb obesity and the related higher health care costs.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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