Rarely does an industry make so clear its strategy of stopping a health movement as in the case of menu labeling. In a June 29 presentation, the National Restaurant Association featured before and after slides of the vibrant local and state movement for menu labeling. The first slide shows a map of the US, circa December 2006, with only one city taking on local menu labeling – New York. The second shows the same map in May 2010, with dozens of states and communities considering and passing menu labeling laws for restaurant chains. That grassroots movement died on March 23 when President Obama signed the health care reform act which contained an industry-supported provision preempting stronger state and local menu labeling laws.
Grassroots movements have benefits beyond the obvious one of building political power outside the Beltway. State and local health laws are typically stronger than those passed in Washington. That was true in menu labeling and tobacco control, in which the only tobacco law to pass Congress without the support of the tobacco industry was the airline smoking ban. But grassroots movements can also empower communities to improve their physical and social environments.
None of this is surprising given the franchise industry’s earlier announcement that “Pre-emption Of State And Local Menu Labeling Laws [is] Good News For Franchise Restaurants.” But it’s a stark warning to others in public health that if they want to build effective grassroots movements for change, preemption is the enemy. And the industry knows this and knows how to get preemption passed.