Toronto’s chief medical health officer wants the city to require restaurants to provide nutritional information, such as calories and sodium levels, on their menus, even if provincial menu labelling legislation doesn’t get enacted.

In a report to the board of health, Dr. David McKeown recommends the board urge Ontario to develop a menu labelling law that would apply to chains with 10 or more restaurants or have at least $10 million in annual sales.

If the province fails to act by Sept. 1, McKeown recommends the board request that the city adopt a bylaw that covers the same ground.

“We think it’s about time that people in Toronto and Ontario had a chance to know what they’re eating when they go to a restaurant,” McKeown told CityNews.

“Canadians on average consume about twice as much sodium as they really need and as a result we have quite high rates of high blood pressure, hypertension and of course we all know that we’re facing a real problem of growing obesity levels in the population.”

He said one way to help is to give diners good information at the time they’re making decisions.

Currently in Canada, some nutritional information is made available by individual restaurants or chains on a voluntary basis, but the vast majority of this information is neither standardized nor readily visible at the point of purchase, the report said.

In the United States, mandatory menu labelling has become the norm for large chains. New York City was the first city south of the border to adopt that, and since then, the U.S. federal government has enacted menu labelling legislation as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the report said.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CFRA) prefers a more global approach.

“A patchwork of programs municipality by municipality, is unworkable and costly for restaurant operators and their customers,” CRFA’s Ontario vice-president Stephanie Jones said in a release on Tuesday. “The answer is a standardized model that can be adopted across the country – Informed Dining is that model.”

The Informed Dining program is one that began in British Columbia and provides nutritional information in a brochure, poster, website or separate menu but not in an actual restaurant menu. Jones said the industry and several provincial and territorial governments are working together to make the Informed Dining program the national standard for providing diners with nutritional information.

NDP MPP health critic France Gelinas told CityNews she supports what McKeown is trying to do, but believes it’d be better if it came from Queen’s Park. She said she will re-introduce her private members’ bill, which would require chain restaurants to provide nutritional information on their menus, a fourth time next Monday.

“If you put calories on your menu board, people use it to make wise decisions,” she said.

In the meantime, the city’s public health department will conduct a voluntary menu labelling pilot project with independent restaurants and smaller chains, McKeown said.

The board of health will consider McKeown’s recommendations at a meeting next Monday.

Would you mandatory menu labelling? Share your thoughts in the comments below.