Calories on menus will cost €110m, says restaurant group

The Restaurants Association of Ireland has claimed the mandatory display of calories counts on menus will cost its industry €110m and thousands of jobs.

Today is the deadline for completion of submissions from the public on the Government’s proposed Health and Wellbeing Bill, which will apply to non pre-packaged food served by food businesses for immediate consumption on or off the premises.

When the legislation was announced, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said that he was very concerned at obesity levels, pointing out that nearly two out of every three adults, and one in four children, were overweight or obese.

Earlier this month, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said the World Health Organisation had indicated that more Irish children are overweight than in most European countries, and that in less than 15 years Ireland will be the most obese nation in Europe unless action is taken.

It said the annual cost of obesity in Ireland amounted to €1.13bn.

“As a public health issue, overweight and obesity are ranked as the biggest pandemic affecting the largest number of people in Ireland, contributing to a myriad of preventable chronic diseases,” it said.

The proposed legislation will apply to food businesses regardless of size, type of food sold, type of ownership or location. It will require all menus, including boards, leaflets and digital menus to display calorie details alongside the price in the same font size and colour.

It is proposed that calorie amounts will be displayed in Kcal (kilo calories) and KJ (kilo joules) using a verifiable tool for calorie-counting such as MenuCal — a free online calorie calculator developed by the FSAI to assist food businesses.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) has claimed the survey on the issue is “biased” as it says there is no option but to agree that calories should be on menus.

It said the proposed legislation would cost each restaurant an estimated €5,000 per year “at a time when restaurants are trying to create new jobs as well as saving existing ones”.

“In December 2014, allergens on menus were brought in. Feedback from our members is that it takes an additional 4-5 hours each week to prepare this information and now the Government want to enact calories on menu legislation adding more hours and costs to the restaurant,” said RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins. “How does the Department of Health suggest that we pay for this without having to pass on that cost to employees, reduce their hours or cut staff? It’s not easy for a business to cough up €5,000 in the morning. The banks aren’t lending us any money.”

He questioned how the Government would monitor businesses.

“Will civil servants be paid to eat out in all of Ireland’s 22,000 food outlets and check if each menu has calorie counts on them?” he said.

“Any chef will tell you that menus in restaurants vary from day-to-day and therefore calorie counting would be highly inaccurate anyway.

“It’s difficult to calculate hand-crafted dishes correctly. Calorie counts on menus have already been introduced in the United States, with disastrous results.Five out of six customers paid no attention to the information, according to a study by New York University.”

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