On the Money

Jury's still out on whether the 3rd time will be the charm for new calorie counting rules

Beth Corsentino
Counting on calories

Close to 300,000 chain restaurants, supermarkets, movie theatres and convenience stores around the country have been given a temporary reprieve from legislation requiring them to post calorie counts on menus.

The law, which is a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, requires establishments in a chain with 20 or more locations to prominently display the calorie information as well as be able to provide other nutritional information to customers who ask for it. This is the third time there's been a delay, and the new deadline is set for May 7, 2018.

However, the decision has sparked a debate about whether another reprieve is even necessary.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit consumer group which advocates for safer and healthier foods sees no reason for such an action.

"Calls for flexibility are Washington speak for providing less information to consumers in ways that are less useful," Margo Wootan, the group's director of nutritional policy, told CNBC's "On The Money" in an interview.

In a release, the FDA cited "...further consideration of what opportunities there may be to reduce costs and enhance the flexibility of these requirements" as the primary reason for the postponement. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who oversees the agency, lauded the action and called the rules themselves "burdensome" and "unhelpful."

It's a sentiment echoed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), an organization that advocates for food retailers and wholesalers.

Jennifer Hatcher, FMI's Chief public policy officer, told CNBC in an interview that "the delay just gives time for the new folks at the FDA to take a look at this and figure out a way to do it in a less burdensome manner."

Suggesting the delay could work to the benefit of FMI's members, Hatcher added: "This was the third most burdensome legislation that the Obama administration, under their own criteria, had in place in 2010."

According to Hatcher, her organization is looking for some clarification on the policy change, arguing that some businesses should be allowed to "correct an error rather than have an enforcement action" leveled against them, among other things.

Separately, the CSPI is also concerned about the placement of the calorie counts within the retailers, specifically supermarkets.

"It sounds so practical to put it all together up in one place but if it is up by the cash register and it's not next to the items where people are making their decisions what good is the information?" asked Wootan. "It doesn't help them make choices." said Wootan.

--Reuters contributed to this article.

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