AUGUSTA – A bill to require chain restaurants to list the number of calories in the food they sell appears to be almost dead after a legislative committee voted overwhelmingly against it. Gov. John Baldacci is not supporting it.

The Committee on Business, Research and Economic Development voted 10-2 Tuesday to recommend to the House and Senate that L.D. 110 be rejected.

Before that vote, the administration changed its position from supporting the bill to neither supporting nor opposing.

No support from the governor, combined with a strong committee vote against it, makes it difficult for the bill to pass, said sponsor Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, who served on the Commission to Study Public Health.

In December, that commission recommended action that Maine could take to reduce obesity. Posting calories in chain restaurants was one of its recommendations.

Craven said Thursday that she’s disappointed and frustrated that Baldacci is not supporting the bill, considering how obesity contributes to Maine’s skyrocketing health costs, and how it seems to go against the governor’s goals of making Mainers healthier.

Smaller burgers?

“I told the restaurants if they sold smaller burgers they wouldn’t have to pay as much for their health care,” Craven said. It would help if people could easily see, for example, that one milkshake has more calories than they need for one day, and more calories than a sandwich, a small serving of french fries and a diet drink.

With only two committee members favoring L.D. 110, Craven said she’s hoping to get the bill debated on the House floor “to have a conversation about it.” It’s unlikely, Craven said, that the bill would be passed into law. “It would be nice.”

On Tuesday, Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Commissioner John Hall apologized to the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee for confusion on the administration’s position.

The governor does not want to force restaurants to list calories, but supports a market-based approach recognizing that consumers want healthier food, Hall said.

The administration promotes efforts to provide consumers with information about health risks and healthy eating, and intends to continue its multi-pronged strategy promoting healthy eating through public campaigns, Hall said.

That position was given after the Feb. 10 public hearing when Maine restaurants showed up in force to testify against mandating calories on menus, saying that would cost them too much for new menus and lost business.

Craven is now hoping other recommendations from the obesity commission will have more success. Those include a bill requiring the Department of Transportation to spend at least 1 percent of its highway budget on alternative to roads such as walking and biking paths; and one requiring schools to teach more physical education, serve and sell only healthy food to students, and probe whether the state should ban or restrict advertising of non-healthy food and drinks directed at children under 12.

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