Poll shows huge support for calorie labeling on menus despite plans scrapped


A FRESHLY RELEASED POLL found broad support for mandatory calorie information on restaurant menus despite plans to introduce the measure currently on the table.

A Red C poll conducted for The newspaper found that 61% of respondents think calorie information should be introduced in all restaurants in Ireland. Another 12% said it should be introduced, but only in restaurants with more than 250 employees.

A total of 21% said it should not be introduced while the remaining 6% said they didn’t know.

The proposal – which aims to help stop obesity – was hugely popular among parents who had dependent children, with 80% of that group backing the measure. Support from adults without dependent children was 69%.

The polling company conducted online interviews with a random sample of 1,000 adults from across Ireland between May 12 and May 18.

The findings come after the UK last month introduced mandatory calorie display for food businesses with more than 250 employees.

What is the story in Ireland?

The government has sought to promote calorie counts on menus 10 years oldwhen a voluntary scheme was introduced when James Reilly was Minister of Health.

In effect, research carried out in Ireland almost ten years ago found that many food companies believed calorie labeling was ‘imminent’ because consumers ‘want it’.

When the 2016-2025 season Obesity policy and action plan was released six years ago, the development of legislation to make nutrition information on menus mandatory was listed as a priority to begin in the first year of the plan.

Then-Health Minister Simon Harris revisited the issue in 2019, pledging to publish the legislation before the end of that year.

The Department of Health confirmed this week that work on drafting the legislation was halted when staff were redeployed to help Ireland’s response to Covid-19 and there are currently no plans to revisit the matter .

“However, priorities for public health legislation are under continuous review,” a spokesperson noted.

The proposal is backed by doctors and nutrition experts, but many in the food industry say it is impractical and would be very expensive to implement.

“It makes my blood boil”

Chef Wade Murphy, who runs the 1826 restaurant in Adare Co Limerick, said there was “absolutely no way there were any calories on my menu”.

Murphy, who has worked in kitchens around the world, said calorie labeling is feasible in mass catering but simply not possible in restaurants such as 1826.

“I can see how it can work for a multinational or a place that has a central kitchen, making several thousand covers every day – the recipes don’t change. For someone like us, if my sous chef adds another knob of butter to a piece of turbot, the whole calorie count is wasted,” Murphy said.

“It’s not polite, it’s not feasible. Environmental health and EHOs [Environmental Health Officers] are already under great pressure. So who’s going to police?

Murphy is also philosophically opposed to calorie counting, saying “it makes my blood boil to think we’re going in this direction with food”.

“We are primary producers of some of the best things in the world – our beef, our dairy, our cream, our butter,” he explained.

“They’d be better off running campaigns against childhood obesity and getting people into schools – teaching where the food comes from – than hitting us in restaurants having to put calorie counts on the menu. “

Calorie labeling has recently been made mandatory for chain restaurants in the UK.

Source: DPA/PA images

The comments are echoed by the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) which argues for “education not regulation”.

The association says enforcing calorie display on menus would cost the state tens of millions of euros to implement and would also force chefs to spend more time doing paperwork than they would. in the kitchen.

The RAI also notes that calories alone are not a good measure of a healthy menu.

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What the doctors say

While restaurateurs oppose calorie labeling, doctors and regulated nutrition experts have weighed in behind the measure.

The Irish Institute of Nutrition and Dietetics (INDI) says it can help people make more informed choices when eating out or ordering takeout.

The institute said it can also encourage food companies to produce healthier meals as restaurants reduce portion sizes to reduce caloric value.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it will make people aware of the choices they are making,” an INDI spokesperson said.

“Some research suggests that 30% of people will notice caloric intake and cut about 100 calories from their choices. It has been on the agenda for many years now and we hope it will be rolled out to help the consumer make informed choices,” the spokesperson added.

The HSE is also in favor of unfreezing the frozen proposal. Its National Obesity Clinical Lead, Professor Donald O’Shea, called for the calorie display to be put back ‘on the table’ yesterday.

“We have to say we have an obesity epidemic that is crippling our health service and it’s a simple thing that works,” Prof O’Shea said on RTÉ. Today with Claire Byrne program.

An HSE spokesperson said The newspaper that menu labelling, including displaying calories, is recommended as part of a comprehensive approach to stem the rise of diet-related chronic diseases.

“There is enough scientific evidence to show that modifying food environments in the form of displaying calories on menus can be a powerful tool to improve the food choices of large numbers of individuals at the same time,” said the HSE.

Eating disorders

In the UK, some mental health campaigners have spoken out against recently introduced calorie count legislation, fearing it could further perpetuate eating disorders.

According to the charity BEAT, around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders, with calorie counting being a prominent symptom of these conditions.

“Research has shown that when making food choices from a menu that includes a calorie count, people with anorexia and bulimia are more likely to order foods with significantly fewer calories, while people with binge eating are more likely to order foods with significantly higher calories, exacerbating eating disorder behaviors,” BEAT said.

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