Calories at a cost

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly's proposals for putting calories on menus will cost each restaurant an estimated €5,000, according to the Restaurants Association of Ireland which pointed out that it cost Bay Restaurant in Clontarf €10,000 to implement the calorie counts on its menu.

And the Minister’s threat to bring forward mandatory legislation forcing restaurants to display calorie counts on their menus – “Voluntary for now, but if people don’t come to the party, I will legislate”  – will cost the industry €110 million, says the RAI.
The Minister was speaking at the launch of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s survey entitled Calories on Menus in Ireland – a Report on a National Consultation.

The move will cripple the restaurant industry at a time when revenues are 20 per cent down on 2011 and a restaurant a day is closing, stated RAI Chief Executive Adrian Cummins.

“How does the Minister for Health and his Department suggest that we pay for this without having to absorb the cost?” he asked, “It’s not easy for any business to cough up €5,000 in the morning. The banks aren’t lending any money.”

Reiterating that the proposals are an unnecessary burden on restaurant owners as the measures would be virtually impossible to monitor, he added, “How does the government propose that this will be monitored? Will inspectors be paid to eat out in all of Ireland’s 22,000 food outlets and check if each menu has calorie counts on them? Any chef will tell you that menus in restaurants vary from day-to-day and therefore calorie counting would be highly inaccurate anyway”.

The RAI welcomes calorie counts on menus as a voluntary regime but questions need to be asked regarding the resources provided in recommendation six of the report towards support for the restaurant sector.

The report outlines that:
•    Only 18 per cent of people in favour of calories on menus want them in fine-dining restaurants
•    Only 26 per cent in gastropubs

“We don’t see it as a practical proposition,” stated VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “Menus change on a daily basis in many cases and many publicans give a carvery offering where portion sizes can differ and the basic raw material can and does vary from a fat perspective etc. It may be operable in high volume standard offerings but not with changing menus with variable raw material”.

The FSAI stated at the launch that it will develop software, hold seminars and develop courses for restaurants to help them implement the changes but so far all the details are sketchy and unclear, stated the RAI.

Nutritional Chef Lynda McFarland supports the RAI’s stance, saying that,  “Calorie-counts can be very misleading as they do not represent the nutritional contents of the food.

“The ingredients and quality of food should be considered when choosing a meal, not just the calorie count. For example, a 100g piece of salmon could have 200 calories, which is equivalent to 12 spoons of sugar or a fizzy drink, but people wouldn’t see the nutritional value of the salmon versus the fizzy drink, they would just see the calorie count.

“The emphasis really has to be on educating people about quality food and ingredients if the government is serious about tackling obesity.”

Adrian Cummins shares this this approach to healthy eating and believes that restaurants are not the cause of Ireland’s weight problems.

“People are rarely eating out in these bleak times. It’s a rare treat for them and the last thing they want is to be made feel guilty or conscious of enjoying a meal.”

Calorie counts on menus have already been introduced in the US with disastrous results. Five out of six customers paid no attention to the information, according to a 2011 study by New York University, yet the Minister has given food businesses just six months to get the system up-and-running on a voluntary basis.

The Irish Hotels Federation too stated that it would oppose any attempt to introduce mandatory calorie counts on menus in hotels and guesthouses once the six-month introductory phase had passed.


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