Restaurants find bill to count calories hard to swallow

An agency representing restaurants in Canada thinks a bill to require the posting of calorie content in all Ontario eateries is regressive.

On April 9, MPP France Gelinas (NDP) presented a Private Members Bill at Queen’s Park. Bill 156 would amend the Health Protection and Promotion Act, mandating restaurants grossing $5 million or more to disclose the calorie content and limit the amount of trans fat in their food and beverages.

Stephanie Jones, vice-president of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA), said that the food industry wants to come up with a long-term solution, but Bill 156 is “reactionary.”

“Provincial regulations would be a step back,” she said. “A step forward would be federal regulations of the removal of trans fat from the whole food supply…We need the suppliers to eliminate trans fats so that we can ensure it doesn’t reach the restaurants.”

Gelinas is not convinced. She said she has garnered much support for Bill 156 and received positive feed back from the healthcare industry as well as the McGuinty administration’s Ministry of Health Promotion.

She also quoted statistics that indicate 60 per cent of Ontarians are overweight and one in every four children is either overweight or obese. Gelinas hopes the bill will move the McGuinty government to action.

Gary Wheeler, special assistant to the minister of Health Promotion admits there is need for improvement but said his ministry is looking for a long-standing solution.

“We encourage those on all sides of the debate to find ways to prevent childhood obesity and promote healthy eating,” he said.

Gelinas said part of the CRFA’s negative reaction to the bill comes from the potential cost to hire nutritionists to provide the calorie information to eating establishments. She also said one of the reasons for the “push-back” from the food industry may be the potential for lost revenue if calorie-conscious consumers are presented with healthier choices elsewhere.

“Once they (restaurants) make that information (calories) available,” she said, “they know some menu items won’t sell anymore. At the end of the day it will mean change for them…forcing them to bring items on their menus with less calories.”

Mario Gregorriu, owner of several Friendly Greek restaurants in Toronto disagreed. He said Bill 156 wouldn’t have any significant effect on his businesses because his establishments already provide healthy choices for his customers. However, he doesn’t support the bill because of the expected added expense.

“In these economic times…it’s not a good idea to add any additional costs to any business,” he said.

Meanwhile, the CRFA’s Jones said while the cost may be significant, she believes the greatest concern is standardization.

“As an industry we have over 11,000 members in Ontario and one of the key things when providing nutritional information is the need for standardization,” Jones said. “If there isn’t, then accurate nutritional information is not going to be available because the menu offerings and ingredient information (for some) will change on a daily basis.”

Wheeler said the discussion will raise awareness about healthy eating, which will play an important role in Ontarians well-being.

“Preventing obesity through healthy eating and physical activity is a priority for this government… (and) we encourage the restaurant industry to share as much information as possible with their customers so that people can make healthy choices.”