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Maryland may follow California on menu labeling laws

March 3, 2009 | 11:03 am

Menu Maryland could be the next place to weigh in with restaurant food labeling laws. Hearings are scheduled in Annapolis today.

(California is one of the places that already has menu labeling laws. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about the law last fall, with, from left, California Medical Assn. President Dr. Richard Frankenstein; Department of Public Health Chief Deputy Director Dr. Bonnie Sorensen; Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima); and Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord).)

One bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly would require calorie counts on the menu boards at fast food spots. Would people think twice before ordering if they had that information?

That bill, HB601, was sponsored by state Sen. David Harrington and Delegate Doyle Niemann. It also calls for expanded nutrition information on printed menus for chains with at least 15 outlets.

The second bill, HB 567, introduced by Delegate James Hubbard, would require restaurants to phase out partially hydrogenated oil — a source of artery-clogging artificial trans fat — by October 2010. Most national chains have already cut trans fat or are in the process of doing so.

The Restaurant Assn. of Maryland said it would support the trans fat law if it also included packaged goods. "The restaurant industry strongly supports phasing out the use of artificial trans fats. ... Our goal is to be virtually trans fat-free by the time this legislation takes effect in October 2010."

The association strongly opposes Bill 601, in part, the organization's Melvin Thompson said, because "it contributes to a growing patchwork of different menu labeling regulations that prove to be challenging for businesses operating in multiple states." Thompson said the association supports a national plan to require chain restaurants to provide nutrition information in one of several formats.

"Customers need calorie information at the point-of-ordering to make informed decisions,” said Michelle Forman, government affairs manager at the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. “How else would one know that a plain bagel — without cream cheese — at Dunkin’ Donuts has 120 more calories than a jelly-filled donut?  Or that a large chocolate shake at McDonald’s has more calories than three hamburgers?”

-- Mary MacVean

Photo courtesy California governor's office