SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Chain restaurants will be required to display calorie counts for hamburgers, French fries and the rest of their offerings under a bill that won final approval Monday in the Oregon Legislature.
The new requirement is aimed at combatting a national obesity epidemic by giving consumers more information about the food they choose to eat.
If the measure is signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, as expected, it will require that any Oregon restaurant with 15 or more outlets in the nation to post calories on menus and menu boards, including drive-through displays. The law would take effect in January 2011.
Oregon would join California in having a statewide requirement for posting such information. There also are local ordinances around the country, such as in the cities of New York, Philadelphia and Seattle.
The bill cleared the Senate on a 21-7 vote Monday despite objections from several lawmakers who questioned whether it would change people's unhealthy eating habits.
"The people who are going to read these menu boards, and look at the calorie content, are not those who we are targeting. That's just the reality of it," said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg.
Other critics said the state should not impose additional requirements on restaurants at a time when many of them are struggling in a poor economy.
But Sen. Alan Bates, an Ashland physician, said the information would lead at least some Oregonians to choose more healthful food and help the state fight its obesity and diabetes epidemics.
"If you ask the average person how many calories are in that milk shake, hamburger and French fries, you'd be stunned by how many people have no idea," Bates said.
When people learn that such a meal could contain anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 calories, "your entire daily need and more," they might think twice and order something less fattening, the Ashland Democrat said.
Multnomah County is Oregon's only area that's currently moving to have chain restaurants post caloric information. The Oregon legislation would bar local governments from enacting such ordinances, thereby pre-empting Multnomah County's recent requirement.
Supporters of that provision say it will ensure consistent menu labeling standards statewide.
The measure is House Bill 2726
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)