By the end of next year, the Food and Drug Administration will require vending machine operators to post calorie counts on 5 million machines across the country. The new labeling regulation is part of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and will require vending machine owners to comply within the year.
The new requirement is a federal effort to help consumers make healthier choices regarding the snacks they eat. The result will be similar to what customers see on calorie menus in restaurants, according to KDVR. While the idea is to give snackers a better idea of the nutritional content of the food they purchase, the law’s reception has been mixed, with those who have to comply saying the new regulation puts unnecessary burden on the people who own the machines.
"It is outrageous for us to have to do this on all our equipment," Carol Brennan, who owns Brennan Food Vending Services, told the Associated Press. "How many people have not read a label on a candy bar? If you're concerned about it, you've already read it for years."
The new vending machine law will require firms who own 20 machines or more to post calorie counts. According to Bustle, that’s about 10,800 firms. Nearly 75 percent of these companies have three or fewer employees, and their profit margins are very slim. Lawmakers estimate the program will cost around $24 million a year to implement. Companies will have to cough up an initial investment of $2,400, plus $2,200 in annual costs – a lot of money for small companies whose profits are only a few thousand dollars a year.
"The money that would be spent to comply with this -- there's no return on the investment," Eric Dell, vice president for government affairs of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, told The Associated Press.
Companies will have a few options for how they can fulfill the requirements of the vending machine law. They can either stick signs to the machines, or even opt for a digital display.
“There’s software available to give you the calorie count,” John Diodata, with Morning Star Services, told CBS. “You just have to add that into the machine. The older type machines will either have to be upgraded, or [we’ll] put a sticker up on the machine for each product with the calorie count.”
Previous laws have required some fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. Critics of these types of laws, including the new vending machine law, point out that the calorie counts don’t actually make a difference in consumers’ decision making. According to a recent study by New York University Langone Medical Center researchers, patrons who ate at Burger King or McDonald’s restaurants in Philadelphia before and after the state implemented its calorie labeling law showed no noticeable difference in their eating habits.
"What we're seeing is that many consumers, particularly vulnerable groups, do not report noticing calorie labeling information and even fewer report using labeling to purchase fewer calories," study researcher Dr. Brian Elbel, an assistant professor of Population Health and Health Policy at the NYU School of Medicine, said in a statement. "After labeling began in Philadelphia, about 10 percent of the respondents in our study said that calorie labels at fast-food chains resulted in them choosing fewer calories."
There was also no discernible difference in the number of times people ate fast food after the law.