As Minister for Health I established the Special Action Group on Obesity to advise me on priority actions to tackle overweight and obesity. This Group identified putting calorie information on menus of fast food establishments, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as one of a range of measures.
Therefore, I have prioritised calorie posting on menus as a key initiative that will have a positive impact in addressing the problem of our rising levels of overweight and obesity, and as a means of educating the general public on the calorie content of food portions. It is a simple concept that will provide consumers with information on calories and facilitate them in make healthier choices, eat smaller portions and enjoy food without over-eating. It is essential to recognise that a small, but sustained positive change in the eating behaviour of a large number of individuals can have a major effect on our obesity crisis and I strongly believe that calorie menu labelling is of a range of actions that offers this potential.
I recognise that the scheme needs to be operated on a voluntary basis initially to allow a period of time for the development of a system, including technical tools, to support the food service sector.
Last week I launched the Food Safety Authority of Ireland's report on their national consultation. I was very encouraged to find that there was an overwhelming demand by consumers (96%) for calorie menu labelling in food outlets, with 89% saying that calories should be displayed beside the price of food and drink items on the menu. I was also encouraged to see that when asked whether calorie labelling should apply to outlets serving alcoholic drinks, 84% of consumers said calorie labelling of alcoholic beverages should apply in these outlets.
The report also indicated that food service businesses themselves were in favour of calorie menu labelling, with nearly three in four food service businesses in favour of calorie menu labelling in food establishments.
However, there is a clear message from the FSAI report and from food business delegations that I have met with, that food service outlets, especially small independent restaurants, need technical support to implement such a scheme in terms of calculating calorie content of the food they sell. I am aware that the potential cost and the time involved in implementing calorie menu labelling are also a concern. Taking these concerns into account, I am considering how best food service businesses can be provided with some assistance in implementing the scheme.