The Restaurants Association of Ireland says it is "outraged" at proposed new legislation which would see displaying calories on menus becoming mandatory for all restaurants
, pubs, catering establishments and eateries. The requirements would also extend to coffee shops, cafés and delicatessens.
In launching the public consultation, the Department of Health said, "The primary purpose of the proposal, in an environment where increasing numbers are eating out and consuming take-aways and food on the go, is to ensure that calorie information is available at the point of choice for the consumer.
A 2012 public consultation hosted and evaluated by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found overwhelming consumer support for the principle of calorie posting with 95% in favour of its introduction.
Adrian Cummins, CEO of the RAI, has called on its members to voice their concerns about the proposals which, he said, will have significant negative ramifications for the food industry.
"It looks like this proposed legislation for presenting calories on menus is being rammed through by the Government with little thought about the negative effects it will have. This really is nanny-statism at its best," he said.
"Enforcing calorie count menus will cost the state tens of millions of euro to implement, money that would quite frankly be better spent elsewhere. Chefs will also be spending more and more time doing paperwork than in the kitchen, which will do nothing to make the career more appealing when we are facing a chef shortage."
The RAI has instead called for increased education about nutrition.
"We want to see home economics or food science equivalent mandatory in second level and we need more comprehensive food education on the primary education syllabus," Mr Cummins said.
"Calories on their own are not a good measure of healthy menus. Calories are one part of calculating a healthy diet. Calorie needs differ depending on a person’s age, gender, height, weight, and physical activity level. Restaurants by their very design are for occasions and we as an industry have confidence in our customers knowing a restaurant meal is just that, a treat.
The RAI said it would favour the adoption of laws similar to those in parts of the United States where the FDA requires calorie labelling for restaurants that are part of a chain of 20 or more. It would mean that small businesses would not be required to display the information.