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Vitale Calls On Health Commissioner To Implement Menu Labeling Law

Says Health Department Cannot Pick and Choose Which Laws to Enforce

TRENTON – State Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, the sponsor of legislation signed into law last year to require chain restaurants in the Garden State to post calorie information on their menus, today called on Health and Senior Services Commissioner Poonam Alaigh to follow her constitutional obligation to write regulations and enforce the law.

“Governor Christie has expressed disapproval of activist judges who legislate from the bench,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “This is a pretty clear-cut case of Commissioner Alaigh legislating through the bureaucracy. The executive branch doesn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which laws to enforce, and Commissioner Alaigh should step up and implement the menu-labeling law, or be prepared to defend her failure to act on this law in court.”

During the last legislative session, Senator Vitale sponsored legislation to require chain restaurants with 20 or more locations nation-wide to disclose calorie information on menus or menu boards within the restaurant.

The bill was approved by the Legislature on January 11, 2010, and signed into law on January 17, 2010. The bill provided the Department of Health a year to develop regulations and implement the provisions of the law. However, recently, Commissioner Alaigh has said that she would wait for the federal government to develop calorie-posting requirements – a process that could take an additional two to three years, according to Senator Vitale.

“We have a law on the books, and the Commissioner has a constitutional responsibility to enforce the laws on the books, plain and simple,” said Senator Vitale. “There is no room for equivocation in this process. Once a bill is signed, love it or hate it, it’s the executive branch’s job to make sure that the law is implemented.”

Senator Vitale said that he is reviewing options to force the implementation of the bill, including bringing a lawsuit against the Department of Health for its failure to act on the legislation, and crafting a new bill which would circumvent the Department’s rule-making process. He added that many chain restaurants already provide nutritional information about their menu items on corporate Web sites, but that his law would require access to information at the point of sale, rather than after the fact.

“I think it’s even more unconscionable that Dr. Alaigh is a health care professional who can’t seem to see the value of calorie information on menus,” said Senator Vitale, who noted that when a similar posting requirement was instituted in New York City, people tended to make more nutritious eating choices. “Obesity is an epidemic in this country, and we want to give people the information they need to make the best health choices possible. This is about empowering consumers, and Commissioner Alaigh should do the right thing to give people access to nutritional information about the food they eat in chain restaurants throughout New Jersey.”

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