AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine took the first step Tuesday toward joining other states and cities that require restaurant chains to post calorie counts on their menus.
The House of Representatives voted 88-56 in favor of a bill applying to chain restaurants doing business under the same trade name in 20 or more locations, including at least one in Maine. The bill faces further House and Senate votes.
Passage would bring Maine in line with other states considering similar bills. California has such a law, and the cities of New York, Philadelphia and Seattle have calorie-posting ordinances. On Monday night, Connecticut’s House sent a bill to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who was undecided, and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski is ex-pected to sign a bill sent to him. Tennessee and West Virginia have rejected calorie-posting bills.
The Maine bill, sponsored by House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, says that in addition to displaying per-serving calorie counts, menu boards must post a statement saying, “In order to maintain a healthy weight, a typical adult should consume approximately 2,000 calories per day; however, individual calorie needs may vary.”
During the House debate, supporters said the bill addresses a major focus of public health efforts — obesity — while helping parents to make healthful menu choices for their children when they eat at fast-food restaurants.
Rep. Elizabeth Miller, D-Somerville, cited a study showing that as of 2006, Americans were spending half of their food money on meals prepared outside the home, but they also underestimate the number of calories they consume with those meals.
“It’s important to have these labels if we’re going to eat out that much,” Miller said. “Labels are important, and they will help us to change our behaviors.”
Another supporter, Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, said advocates are trying to coordinate their efforts with other states that are also passing calorie-posting bills.
Opponents contend that the menu changes impose new costs on restaurant owners at a time they can least afford it because of the weak economy. Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess also said that the costs would be absorbed by Maine businesses that buy franchise rights from the chains.
“It’s a small-business issue,” said the Cumberland Republican. “These aren’t faceless, large corporations with deep pockets we’re talking about.”
Rep. Lance Harvel, R-Farmington, said access to nutritional information is widely accessible to the public, which has grown increasingly savvy about what foods are healthful and which are not.
“I never met anybody who picked up a Big Mac and thought they were getting health food,” said Harvel.