After the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act, most of Washington focused on repairing and delaying the law’s most obvious problems. However, a handful of lawmakers have finally noticed one of the law’s hidden regulations: a strict calorie labeling requirement for chain restaurants, vending machines, and other food distributors. What at first appeared to be more bureaucratic but harmless government do-gooding is now proving a verifiable nightmare for small business owners and federal regulators alike.
Recently, Senator Angus King (I., Maine) proposed legislation to exempt certain businesses, including pizzerias, grocery stores, and convenience stores, from the labeling mandate, but Congress ought to take a step further. The mandate will be costly, ineffective, and nearly impossible to enforce, and Washington ought to strangle it in the crib.
The calorie label clause, buried deep within the ACA’s 10,000 pages, seems harmless enough at first glance. Each restaurant chain with over 20 locations is required to display the calorie content of each food and drink item it serves on signs and printed menus–with vending machine distributors subjected to the same rules. But the regulation also covers “similar retail food establishments,” a clause vague enough to give FDA regulators sweeping power to determine who does and doesn’t have to comply.