CHICAGO -- The National Automatic Merchandising Association issued a statement thanking Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) for their effort to clarify the intent of the calorie-labeling requirement included in the healthcare reform legislation enacted this summer.
Harkin and DeLauro wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to recommend that the rules written to apply the law be drafted with three considerations in mind.
First, the rules should allow for "inadvertent and minor human error caused by mistakes in stocking the vending machine."
Second, the rules must allow options for "signposting" of calorie information that will enable multiple products, with different caloric content, to be placed in the same column. "Labeling regulations must take into consideration the placement of different snacks with different calories being sold from the same coil or stack," the letter advises, "while also ensuring that consumers can clearly obtain without confusion the relevant calorie information for each particular item." This recognizes that route drivers sometimes must backfill a column with a different product.
"Additionally, it was not our intention to impose any requirement that would mandate the purchase of vending machines in order to comply with the regulation," lawmakers emphasized.
Third: "Vending operators who produce fresh food for placement in vending machines should be afforded the same technical allowances as chain restaurants," the letter continued. The Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for monitoring the rules, is expected to consider a reasonable-basis standard for nutrient content disclosures, normal variations in ingredients and training of foodservice workers, the legislators explained.
"These same factors should be applied to vending operators under the rules your office is promulgating," they proposed. "This will allow and encourage vending operators to continue to provide fresh sandwiches, fresh produce and local products in their locations."
NAMA chief executive Richard M. Geerdes applauded these clarifications of the legislation's intent. "The calorie-disclosure rules being written now will add another cost to vending operators and our customers," he pointed out.
NAMA estimates that, without some mediation, the new calorie-disclosure rules for vending could cost as much as $56.4 million annually.
Especially in view of the present economic conditions, Geerdes said, the association is thankful that the authors of the provision "are helping small businesses with new federal regulations. The fact that Harkin and DeLauro agree with several important NAMA issues means that, when rules are finalized next March, we may have some flexibility, legal protection and clarity. It's a great step in mediating the economic impact of these new rules."
Geerdes also thanked NAMA board member Heidi Chico, U-Select-It Corp. (Des Moines, IA), for help in this effort. She recently hosted Sen. Harkin and his staff at a tour of the USI facility in Iowa during which, and in a subsequent meeting with Harkin's legislative staff, Chico educated him on the severe economic impact of the disclosure regulations, the NAMA chief reported.