Proposal to require some Pr. George’s eateries to display sodium content is on hold

October 11, 2013

A proposal to require some Prince George’s County restaurants to prominently display sodium content levels on their menus is on hold.

Prince George’s Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park) is getting a cool reception for his bill from the restaurant industry and the administration of County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). His measure would require large chains to add sodium content to menus and menu boards, next to calorie information.

By insisting on posting sodium information so prominently, Olson’s bill goes beyond the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act, which compels restaurants with 20 or more sites across the country to post calorie information on menus and menu boards. Other information can be supplied in a separate brochure. The county would have to seek permission from the federal government to require that sodium content also be displayed on menus and menu boards.

Smaller chains and individually owned restaurants are generally exempt.

Olson said Prince George’s would be a good place for to pilot his measure, because a disproportionate number of residents suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease. Excess sodium in food can contribute to that.

The extra requirement Olson is seeking could make it more expensive for fast-food chains and others to create menu boards specifically for Prince George’s, restaurant industry representatives have said.

Olson’s bill would affect restaurants with at least five sites in Prince George’s, or about 300 of the county’s 3,025 restaurants. Olson said he hopes that other restaurants not covered by his plan would volunteer the information.

He said he plans to revive the bill in January. “We did not have the bill finalized,” he said. A council committee session to review his plan, scheduled for Oct. 10, was canceled.

Philadelphia is currently the only jurisdiction to require posting sodium content on menus and menu boards, Olson said. A Philadelphia health department spokesman said the city has asked the federal government to issue a waiver to allow it to continue to require prominent display of sodium content on menus and menu boards. Olson said he hopes Prince George’s would seek a waiver too, should his bill be signed into law.

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