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Calorie info for NYC fast food joints stays veiled

/ Source: The Associated Press

Fast food restaurants in New York are getting a temporary reprieve from a first-in-the-nation rule requiring them to put calorie information on their menus.

The new regulation covering about 2,000 city eateries was on track to take effect on July 1 until it was challenged in court last week by the New York State Restaurant Association.

The restaurants complained that the menu boards that hang above their counters would become a cluttered mess if they have to include a calorie count for every burger, taco or pizza slice. The regulation requires calories to be listed as prominently as the price.

Lawyers for the city said Tuesday that they would delay enforcement until Oct. 1 to give both sides more time to prepare for the legal fight.

After that, restaurants that fail to comply would be subject to fines.

The practical effect of the change in the enforcement date will be small. The city had always planned a three-month grace period before it began assessing fines. But now health inspectors won’t begin recording violations at all until October.

Restaurants’ plans

Several restaurant chains had already said they planned to defy the new rule.

Burger King Holdings Inc. spokesman Keva Silversmith said the company had decided to let the July 1 deadline pass without adding calorie information to menus at its 100 New York restaurants.

Instead, the company would have continued its current practice of providing nutritional data on posters and its Web site — a step city health officials had already said was unacceptable.

McDonald’s Corp. said it would hand out fliers containing nutritional information, but not list calories on its menu.

“Our customers are smart and we believe they’re capable of making sound decisions for themselves and their families based on our choice and variety and the wealth of nutrition information that we are already providing in so many ways,” said company spokeswoman Lisa Howard.

Health Department officials said in a statement that despite the delay in enforcement, the law will still be on the books come July 1, and they hoped restaurants would voluntarily comply.

The restaurants argue that New York City Board of Health exceeded its authority and unfairly singled out fast food when it crafted the rule late last year.

The new rules only apply to restaurants with standard portion sizes, and which already disclose nutritional information voluntarily.

Only big, fast-food chains tend to fall into both of those categories — not the thousands of delicatessens and pizza shops that pack the city.

Restaurants could avoid the rule by yanking nutritional information altogether from public view by March 1, and some national chains did just that. Wendy’s International Inc. pulled all information on calories from posters at its New York restaurants. Quiznos and White Castle deactivated Web pages with nutritional information.