West Virginian Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, took the demise Tuesday of the menu-labeling bill he had championed all session with a grain of salt.
“I think there has been a significant level of public education on this public health issue all around the state,” he said of news coverage of the bill that would have required fast-food and chain restaurants to post calorie counts for menu items (SB419).
The bill was gutted, then killed by the House Government Organization Committee by a 16-7 margin Tuesday morning – all while committee members dined on breakfast biscuits from Tudor’s Biscuit World and McDonald’s and on Krispy Kreme doughnuts, provided by Delegate Mike Ross, D-Randolph.
Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he was offended that delegates mocked the bill – and the state’s obesity epidemic – with their behavior Tuesday.
“That just hurts the public’s already tainted image of the Legislature,” he said of the committee’s fast-food feasting.
“I don’t know why they did that,” Prezioso added. “Maybe they were weighed down by all the biscuits.”
Foster, meanwhile, said he is convinced that menu labeling will become commonplace in a matter of years – whether the Legislature mandates it or not.
“This is an issue that’s important to people around the county,” said Foster, predicting that restaurants will give in to consumer demand for menu labeling.
“Ninety percent of the people in New York City think it’s a great idea,” Foster said of a year-old city ordinance requiring restaurants to post calorie counts.
Prezioso agreed that debate over the bill at least made consumers more aware of the issue.
“I’ve had people tell me they’re more cognizant now of how many calories are in what they order,” he said.
Perry Bryant, with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said the Legislature sent a negative message this session by defeating both the menu-labeling bill and a proposed increase in the state’s cigarette tax.
“Evidently, they’re not concerned that West Virginia has the second-highest percentage of smokers or the second-highest obesity rate in the country,” he said of the Legislature.
Opponents of the menu labeling bill argued that it would impose an unnecessary burden on restaurant operators, with estimates of costs to upgrade menu boards ranging anywhere from $500 to $5,000 per location.
Last week, the Senate offered a controversial proposal dubbed the “Oshel Craigo amendment” that would have exempted his Tudor’s and Gino’s pizza chains from the law.
Craigo, a former state senator, said Tuesday he did not exert any pressure against the bill.
“I never asked anybody to take me out of that bill – not one person – nor did anyone employed by me,” Craigo said.
In fact, Craigo said his objection to the bill was that it exempted too many food-service providers – particularly convenience stores, and grocery stores that have prepared-food deli sections.
“For us, convenience stores are serious competition,” Craigo said. “To let them out of the bill was disingenuous.”
Craigo said he agrees that all restaurants should provide nutrition information.
“I don’t know that it needs to be on the menu board, but if it does, make it apply to everybody,” Craigo said.
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