If the Food and Drug Administration gets its way, your trip to the grocery store could get a tad pricier.
Supermarket owners argue a pending federal food-labeling rule that stems from the new health care law would overburden thousands of grocers and convenience store owners -- to the tune of $1 billion in the first year alone.
Store owner Tom Heinen said the industry's profit margins already are razor thin. "When you incur a significant cost, there is no way that that doesn't get passed on to the customer in some form," he said.
The rule stems from an ObamaCare mandate that restaurants provide nutrition information on menus. Most in the restaurant industry were supportive of the idea, but when the FDA decided to extend the provision to also affect thousands of supermarkets and convenience stores, the backlash was swift.
The proposed regulation would require store owners to label prepared, unpackaged foods found in salad bars and food bars, soups and bakery items. Erik Lieberman, regulatory counsel at the Food Marketing Institute, said testing foods for nutritional data will require either expensive software or even more costly off-site laboratory assessments.
Lieberman said failure to get it right comes with stiff penalties: "If you get it wrong, it's a federal crime, and you could face jail time and thousands of dollars worth of fines."
The FDA says much of ObamaCare is aimed at helping Americans live healthier lives, and these proposed labeling requirements would help them do just that. In the text of the proposed regulation, the FDA states: "[The information] should help consumers limit excess calorie intake and understand how the foods that they purchase at these establishments fit within their daily caloric and other nutritional needs."
An Executive Order issued by President Obama in 2011 says agencies are supposed to calculate a cost-benefit analysis for each new regulation and attempt to use the least burdensome regulatory methods possible. Critics of the FDA's food labeling proposal say the agency didn't comply.
"They are required to do it, and they didn't," Lieberman said. "They simply said, 'We can't quantify a benefit from this rule,' and that's because they really can't."
The FDA said Wednesday it has received hundreds of public comments on the proposal and will take them into consideration when finalizing the regulation. It is likely to be released later this spring, and the agency says it will "include a final economic analysis."