Many of its members serve food and will be adversely impacted by the proposed legislation to introduce calorie counting as a compulsory component on menus.
Last week the Department of Health issued a consultation document inviting publicans and others in the food service business to complete a questionnaire about the planned change which would affect all restaurants, pubs, cafés, coffee shops and other catering establishments.
“Putting calorie counts on menus will place an unnecessary burden on our members at a time when small businesses are facing unprecedented challenges,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “There are so many factors involved in assessing the calorie content of an individual meal, not least portion size, that it will be extremely difficult for an individual business to implement. What happens when a pub wishes to change the menu at short notice due to unavailability of seasonal produce? How will the system be monitored? There are too many variables in food production to make this a worthwhile exercise.
“We’re calling for the funding that would be used to introduce this measure to be diverted to a schools’ education programme which is the proper location to learn about calorie counting and the benefits of eating fresh food.”
According to the consultation document, “In its Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 -2025 the Government committed to the development and implementation of legislation on calorie posting as one of a series of measures aimed at addressing rates of overweight and obesity across the population. A Government decision of March 2015 gave the Minister for Health approval to draft the General Scheme of a Bill that will provide the framework for mandatory calorie posting.”
The VFI believes that asking businesses owners for their opinion after already making the decision to introduce legislation is an empty gesture by the Department of Health.
Padraig Cribben added that the VFI was calling on all its members serving food to contact Minister Simon Harris to express their dismay over this announcement.
“Our members are still reeling from the VAT increase and it’s unrealistic to expect them to introduce such a costly but pointless plan. This is a badly thought-out idea that should not progress any further,” he concluded.
The LVA stated that the Departmental questionnaire “shows a basic lack of understanding of the food service market”.
“Although pubs are the third-largest out-of-home food channel representing 18% of the market, the Department of Health’s consultation questionnaire does not list pubs as a business category,” it stated, “This is despite forms of business which account for much less of the food service market such as cinemas, bakeries and mobile food operators being included.”
The LVA’s Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe stated, “It’s shocking that they published a consultation document which excludes the 7,000 pubs of Ireland as a specific response category.
“Pubs have developed a strong reputation for their food offering in recent years, with high quality food being available in a lot of pubs throughout Dublin and around the country. This has seen pub’s share of the food market grow. To not even include pubs as an option shows how little consideration the Department has for pubs,” he said, “This measure will be an administrative nightmare. It will add to costs, it will be unenforceable and crucially, will prove completely ineffective in tackling obesity.
“It will also cause problems for those venues who like to provide variety, seasonality, specials and rapidly changing menus. If this were to become mandatory, it will penalise those outlets that seek to be innovative and consumer focussed.
“At a time when there are so many other problems in the health service, you’d think the Minister and his Department would have better things to be focus on, rather than this type of anti-business measure,” he concluded.
Naturally, the Restaurants Association of Ireland was none too impressed with the Minister for Health’s menu calorie drive either.
“It looks like this proposed legislation for presenting calories on menus is being rammed through by the Government with little thought about the negative effects it will have,” stated RAI Chief Executive Adrian Cummins, “This really is nanny-statism at its best.
“Enforcing calorie count menus will cost the state tens of millions of €uro to implement” he continued, “money that would quite frankly be better spent elsewhere. Chefs will also be spending more and more time doing paperwork than in the kitchen which will do nothing to make the career more appealing when we’re facing a chef shortage.”
The RAI pointed out that calories are but one part of calculating a healthy diet. Calorie needs differ depending on a person’s age, gender, height, weight, and physical activity level.
“Yet again, the government are stifling small businesses who cannot afford the administration of this,” stated Adrian Cummins, describing the proposals as “unacceptable”.
The Association has also urged its members to contact Simon Harris with their views, pointing out that proper nutritional information includes:- total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fibre, sugars, and protein.
“It’s simply not feasible for a restaurant to provide all the above,” stated the RAI, concluding, “In the US, the Food & Drug Administration requires Calorie labelling for restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain of 20, we would be in favour of the same in Ireland”.
The public consultation opened on the potential introduction of such requirements means that members of the public have until February 14th to have their input heard.