Restauranteurs are up in arms over a decision by the Health Ministry to require restaurant chains to display nutrition information next to the offerings on their menus. The law will apply to restaurants that have 20 or more branches. The decision will require restaurants to list the calorie and nutrition content of meals, including the amount of fat, carbohydrates, sugar and salt. The ministry intends to submit the law for approval by the next Knesset.
The law, if approved, will be the latest in a series of moves by the Health Ministry to require companies to be more open about the nutritional content of food. Recent laws have required companies to highlight nutrition information on labels, with a color-coded labeling system that designates whether a food is healthy or less healthy.
This is the first time restaurants are being affected by nutrition legislation, and restauranteurs are not happy about it. “This is an earthquake in the restaurant business,” said Shai Berman, head of the Israel Restaurant Association, in a letter to Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman. “We will now have to hire dietitians and logistic experts in order to develop the appropriate menus. This will cost restaurants millions of shekels.” In a separate letter, Tel Aviv chef Chaim Cohen said that the law was “unrealistic for restaurants. It may be appropriate for manufacturers. I may not be able to do this even if I charge double for meals.”
In a statement, the ministry said that Rabbi Litzman “is working to include the fast food industry in revealing the nutritional information of products it sells. The idea has been discussed and approved by professionals, and specific rules will be set in the future, based on accepted international criteria.”
Rabbi Litzman has been on an aggressive campaign to reduce the amount of junk food in the Israeli diet. According to statistics supplied by the Central Bureau of Statistics and analyzed by the ministry, 44% of Israelis – nearly one out of two – are overweight or obese, and the same is true of 21% of first graders. By seventh grade, 30% of kids are overweight.