Restaurants to display food calorie counts

High street chains sign up to government scheme aimed at tackling obesity
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Calorie counts are to be displayed on food sold in coffee shops, sandwich bars, pizza parlours, restaurants and workplace canteens from this summer as part of a Government scheme to tackle obesity. Under a voluntary agreement with the Government's Food Standards Agency, six major food chains have agreed to display the number of calories in products on menus and packaging this year, while a further 40 food chains are considering joining the scheme. In the long term the FSA wants every takeaway outlet to display nutritional information about the food it sells.

Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA – which met representatives from 50 fast food and catering companies yesterday to launch its campaign – said that the deal could result in calorie counts being listed on the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants. "I don't see any compelling reason why we shouldn't provide that information. If consumers want to ignore it they could, but we would be giving consumers a real choice," he said.

About 30 per cent of household food spending goes on items such as workplace lunches, sandwiches and takeaways. A survey by Surrey trading standards in 2007 found that one in three pub and restaurant meals contained 1,500 calories – three-quarters of a woman's daily recommended allowance.

While many retailers use the FSA's traffic-light labelling system to highlight levels of salt, sugar and fat in shop-bought products, few restaurants or snack bars do likewise. Chains including KFC, Costa Coffee and Pret a Manger only display such information on their websites, while others do not list the figures anywhere.

The FSA questioned 150 people who ate out two or three times a week and found strong support for simple, standardised information indicating the healthiness of food. In New York, all food chains with more than 15 outlets across the US are required by law to display the number of calories for each product at the point of sale, such as on menu boards above cash tills.

The FSA declined to name the six companies who were "early adopters" of the scheme but Pizza Hut confirmed that it would run a trial with calorie counts at an unspecified number of its restaurants.

McDonald's – which already displays calories on the bottom of its tray liners – said it would be discussing the plans.

The dietary campaign group the Food Commission welcomed the plan. Anna Glayzer, its campaigns co-ordinator, said: "The provision of more nutrition information should be welcomed. However, we want to see this information provided by more than a handful of companies on a voluntary basis."