Calorie count added to menus at half of fast-food, cafe chains
HALF of Ireland's major fast-food and cafe chains have put calories on their menus.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly wants other restaurants to follow suit, using a new Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) calorie-counting tool.
Obesity is one of the biggest threats to long-term wellbeing and measures like this could help people make small healthier choices that would add up over time, he said.
Half of the country's 1,400 major food chains have already rolled out calorie labelling, and the FSAI's new menu-cal online calorie counter would allow small restaurants easily do the same, he said.
This included 75pc of fastfood chains, 50pc of cafe chains and 43pc of major catering companies.
McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and Insomnia are among the chains that have introduced calorie labelling on their main overhead menu display, but Beshoffs and O'Brien's Sandwich bars have not, an Irish Independent survey in Dublin city centre yesterday showed.
Supermacs has a small panel with calorie counts at the side of its flagship O'Connell St base, but not on its main overhead menu, meaning a customer would have to actively seek them out before ordering.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland is strongly opposed to calorie labelling, arguing that it would cost restaurants €5,000 each a year adding up to a yearly bill of €110m.
RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins said that even with the new tool, chefs would have to spend an average of five hours a week manually inputting data for a typical menu. He said counts would not be accurate given the variation in handmade dishes.
Research by New York University School of Medicine had also shown calorie labelling in the US had not influenced food choice there, he said, although other research has indicated positive effects.
But Dr Reilly has rowed back from his threat two years ago to introduce mandatory labelling if restaurants did not voluntarily introduce calorie counts.
A survey had shown that some 96pc of consumers wanted calorie counts, so businesses should meet this demand, he said.
The FSAI said its menucal.ie tool allows chefs input ingredients and portion size to calculate accurate calorie counts – and consumers can also use it to check out the calories in their own favourite recipes.
FSAI nutrition specialist Dr Mary Flynn said it had been very technically challenging to develop but was being made available free to Ireland's 22,000 food businesses.
A person might think for example, she said, that a blueberry muffin was a "healthy snack" but might think twice if they saw it contained 670 calories, a third of a woman's recommended daily intake.
This could encourage restaurants to offer healthier options and smaller portions – which could also benefit their financial "bottom line", she added.
The Irish Hotels Federation warned that calories on menus must remain voluntary.