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California Restaurants Await Governor’s Decision on Menu Labeling Bill
California could become the first state to require chains to include calories on menus.

California restaurateurs are anxiously awaiting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision on a controversial bill that would require chain restaurants in the state, including quick-serves, to post nutritional information on menuboards and printed menus.

He has a track record of signing legislation that most Republican governors wouldn’t sign if he perceives the public sees it as fitness-related.”

The governor has until October 14 to act on SB 120, which he can veto, sign, or allow to pass into law without a signature. If the bill becomes law, chain restaurants with 15 or more locations in the state will be required to display the number of calories in each food item on menu boards and include additional information, such as calorie, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrate, and sodium content, on standard menus.

On the Senate and Assembly floors, where the bill passed September 12 and 10 respectively, voting went along party lines for the most part, with most Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed to the bill. The Republican governor, however, might not be so predictable.

“He has a track record of signing legislation that most Republican governors wouldn’t sign if he perceives the public sees it as fitness-related,” says Jon Fleischman, publisher of right-leaning California political news web site Flashreport.org.

Even so, the California Restaurant Association (CRA), which opposes the bill, is hopeful.

“The California Restaurant Association has always had a good working relationship with the [g]overnor,” says CRA Senior Legislative Director Jon Barnato. “We have had discussions with the [g]overnor’s office on this bill, and we are encouraging our member restaurants to make their opposition to the bill known to the [g]overnor through letters, phone calls, and e[-]mails.”

Proponents of the bill, including the Consumer Federation of California (CFC), are also weighing in.

“There’s a health epidemic in this country, and people deserve to know what they are putting in their bodies.” says Zack Kaldveer, a spokesman for the group. “If there’s anything [Schwarzenegger] knows a lot about, it’s health and fitness, so we are hopeful he will side with the public interest over the profits of big business.”

While Barnato says the CRA agrees that the restaurant industry should work with the government and public health advocates to address the obesity problem in the U.S., the organization feels that SB 120 is not the way to go about achieving that goal.

“This legislation places an onerous and intrusive burden on restaurateurs that will have no affect on obesity rates and opens the door for frivolous shakedown lawsuits,” CRA CEO Jot Condie said in a statement.

The CFC’s Kaldveer countered.

“It’s expected to get responses like [Condie’s] from big business interests whose profits might decline from consumers’ right to know,” he says “The idea that [restaurants] are going to be unduly harmed by giving customers a little bit of information about what they’re eating, I don’t buy that.”

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