Tuesday, November 22, 2005

McDonald's nutrition labels

McDonald's Corporation announced in October that it would begin printing nutrition facts information on food packages (see Associated Press). Facing a number of legal challenges, and long a focus of public interest group attention, the leading fast food company now does better than any of its major competitors in sharing detailed information about its products with consumers.

Some public interest groups are still pressing the company to put calorie information on its menu boards. Michele Simon, who publishes the Informed Eating newsletter, recently noted in an AlterNet column that the labels on food packages will not be read until after purchase -- which one might think is too late.
Upon closer inspection, the move is a thinly veiled attempt at deflecting government intervention that could have even greater impact. How effective is seeing the calories on the wrapper of a cheeseburger you've already purchased?
Still, most McDonald's patrons are repeat customers, and by choosing an accessible format for the key nutrition information, the company has really taken a fascinating step forward. Far from criticizing, I'm saving my ammunition for a post on the (likely but not certain) forthcoming occasion of the removal of this information.

Much of the information has already been available at somewhat greater distance from the point of sale. CalorieLab, for example, provides an accessible summary of the restaurant chain's nutrition facts. The publishers of the Fast Food Facts weblog also link to nutrition information for McDonald's and other companies that make these facts public.

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