Proposed Tennessee legislation requiring all restaurants to identify and warn customers about the health risk of menu items containing trans fat has run up a higher-than-expected tab.
Action on the legislation was deferred Wednesday by lawmakers on the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee.
In February, the state's Fiscal Review Committee (FRC) issued a fiscal note saying the bill would cause a one-time increase of $35,200 in state expenditures and recurring costs of $445,200.
Based on additional information received from the Tennessee Department of Health, the FRC now says the legislation could hand the state a $3.1 million tab in recurring and one-time costs.
The legislation is sponsored in the Senate by state Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, and in the House by state Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson.
The FRC says the increase in the legislation's expense is because the Tennessee Department of Health will need eight new environmental health specialist positions and 16 nutritionists. Nutritional content is currently not considered to be part of a facility's health and safety inspection under present law.
"It is estimated that the local governments will need similar positions to provide the needed services," according to the FRC's bill cost summary. "Davidson, Shelby, Hamilton and Knox counties will need three nutritionist positions each. Sullivan and Madison counties will need an additional position each. Such is estimated to increase local government expenditures of $1 million. ... Each of these local governments is also expected to need an additional environmental health specialist."
Even the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which runs restaurants at state parks, says it will cost $4,000 to print new menus, according to the FRC.
Since 2003, the National Conference of State Legislatures says 16 states have considered laws for restaurants to provide nutrition information for standard menu items, including those with trans fat, which wreaks havoc with the body's ability to regulate cholesterol. Trans fat is found in french fries, vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods.
Tennessee is considering a number of trans fat related bills this year, including two to ban the substance in food service establishments and in school nutrition programs.
Since January 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required trans fat content to be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel on all food labels.
For more about the Jackson-Shepard trans fat bill go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on "Legislation." The bill's number is SB 0040.