The Food and Drug Administration has missed yet another self-imposed deadline to get out final rules on the menu calorie-labeling requirement under Obamacare.
The agency had told members of the food retail industry it should expect final guidelines in February, and the topic appeared to be on the Office of Management and Budget's agenda for this month. But the rules are nowhere close to the finish line, and the FDA is now declining interview requests about the calorie-labeling rules altogether.
"We are currently reviewing comments submitted in response to the proposed rules and hope to issue final regulations by the end of the year," said FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman in an email.
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, requires food establishments to post calories on menus and drive-through signs, in an effort to make consumers more aware of the nutrition information in the food they eat.
Which food retailers are subject to the law, however, has become a heated debate that FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has previously called "the most complicated" part of writing the final rules.
"There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable," Hamburg said in an interview with the Associated Press a year ago.
The FDA issued proposed rules in April 2011. More than 900 comments were submitted to the agency, which has held meetings with key stakeholders about how the requirement would impact food chains, mom-and-pop diners, and even supermarkets selling prepared deli items.
Nearly three years — and multiple, self-imposed deadlines — have passed since the FDA issued the proposed guidelines. The FDA had planned to issue final rules at the end of 2011, with businesses expected to begin complying in 2012. In March 2013, Hamburg told the Associated Press the agency was in the final stages of writing the regulations, with a tentative plan to issue them that spring. Spring came and went with no rules, and they were next expected to be released in September 2013. Still without rules, Hamburg said at an event in November that they would be released "soon."
Some restaurants have started putting up calories voluntarily. Others are required to by local ordinances, such as the one in New York City, where restaurants and coffee shops have been posting calorie counts since mid-2008. But until the FDA gets its guidelines out the door, consumers across the country will continue to wait to see nutritional information posted in all places where they buy and eat meals.