Ordering a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese could become a bit more difficult for calorie-conscious consumers in Schenectady County.
A new law being considered by the Schenectady County Legislature would mandate area fast-food eateries to label the calories of their meals on their menus. That would mean any patron ready to shell out $3.39 for the twin beef patties at the McDonald’s on State Street would also see the 770 calories included in the meal — right next to the price.
Ditto with anyone stopping by Starbuck’s on Watt Street for a Java Chip Frappuccino or sitting down for a Smokehouse Burger at Ruby Tuesday’s in Niskayuna. The law proposed to county legislators earlier this month would require all restaurants with 15 or more locations nationwide to include calorie counts on all their menus.
“It’s really an opportunity to give consumers more information at the point of purchase,” said Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, the Legislature’s chairwoman. “Hopefully when we’re confronted with the number of calories, we might make healthier choices.”
The legislation is nearly identical to one that recently went into effect in Albany County. Calorie counts are also mandated on chain restaurant menus in the counties of Ulster, Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester, as well as New York City.
Savage said the legislation wouldn’t affect small businesses and food retailers such as Stewart’s Shops or Price Chopper. Instead, she said the law would target companies that have the resources to better inform their consumers.
“It wouldn’t be something difficult for chain stores to comply with,” she said Monday. “It doesn’t put a burden on small businesses.”
The proposed legislation could go before a public hearing over the next month and possibly be ratified sometime in March. If enacted, restaurants would have six months to comply with the law.
Scott Vinson, the vice president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, said his organization has supported federal legislation mandating calorie counts. However, he said the piecemeal fashion that such laws are being enacted are putting a burden on franchisees with restaurants in multiple counties or states.
Laws such as the one proposed in Schenectady County only require calorie amounts to be posted on menus. Vinson said other more stringent legislation forces businesses to include everything from the number of carbohydrates to the amount of fat per menu item.
“Having to comply with potentially hundreds of different labeling requirements is just an administrative nightmare,” he said.
Vinson said the council receives scores of complaints about calorie count laws. He said there’s a mistaken impression that big companies absorb the cost of such menu changes, when the burden ultimately falls upon the owner of the franchise.
“At least if it’s done at a federal level, it’s consistent for consumers across the country,” he said.
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