A pizza industry lobbying campaign against food labeling requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has gained momentum in recent weeks as right-wing media promote exaggerated complaints that it would be “costly and burdensome” to require chain restaurants to display calorie information on menu items. Conservative outlets are urging President Donald Trump to rescind the long-delayed implementation of certain food labeling requirements, while completely ignoring that the long-term benefits of such public protections vastly outweigh the short-term costs.
On the April 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Domino's franchisee owner Chris Reisch asked Trump -- who is an obsessive Fox & Friends viewer -- to stop a rule that was passed as part of the ACA and goes into effect on May 5, requiring chain restaurants to display the calorie counts of items on their menus. Reisch preposterously claimed the food labeling requirement would force him to “have a book at the counter” to display the calorie count of the 34 million topping combinations of Domino’s pizza and promoted the openly ridiculous claim that kitchen staff might face jail time for putting too many toppings on a pizza:
During his interview, however, Reisch did not disclose that he was recently on Capitol Hill lobbying against food labeling, overtime pay, and labor rights on behalf of the American Pizza Community (APC) -- the lobbying arm of the pizza industry.
According to The Washington Post, the APC is leading “a desperate push” to curb food labeling standards before they go into effect, “more than seven years after [the ACA] was signed into law” and years after most other chain restaurants already complied with the new standards. Having already gone to Congress with its complaints, the pizza industry may have hoped to reach the president directly via Fox & Friends, which culminated a month-long chorus of right-wing outlets slamming the rule on the industry’s behalf.
In the past few weeks, right-wing outlets and fringe conservative sites have assailed the ruling, citing its supposedly onerous costs and bemoaning the confusion it could cause for customers. Since March 22, The Washington Free Beacon, PJMedia (twice), the National Review, NewsBusters, Investor’s Business Daily, CNS News, and FoxNews.com have promoted varying arguments that the rule would be “costly and burdensome,” that it “lacked common sense,” and that it amounted to little more than “pizza shaming.” CNS News hyped a report from the food services industry that incorrectly estimated the cost of compliance at $1 billion in its first year and NewsBusters questioned if the government should have any role in mandating that companies disclose nutritional information to the public.
In reality, the actual ACA rule requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display the calorie counts of all standard menu items, and has exceptions for temporary items. When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its food labeling standards in November 2014, it estimated that the industry-wide costs would be roughly $1 billion over a 20 year period -- a sum that pales in comparison to the $767 million profit Domino’s earned in 2016 alone. Overall, the FDA estimated that the benefits of Americans eating healthier because of the additional nutritional information would exceed the total cost of implementation by over $8 billion:
Reisch’s claim that the rule would be too costly loses steam in light of the FDA’s findings but it is even more bizarre considering he admitted that Domino’s already has this information and posts the calorie counts of its pizzas and toppings online. On April 17, MarketWatch reported that pizza companies are opposed to displaying calorie counts on menus even though “Americans are paying more attention to food ingredients” and polling showed up to 68 percent want chain restaurants to post calorie information. On her Food Politics blog, nutrition and public health professor Marion Nestle pointed out that the fierce pushback against posting calories on menus, regardless of the low cost and outsize health benefits, shows that these companies “would rather you did not have this information.” This attitude makes it that much more important for government to protect consumers access to this knowledge.