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Congress is coming for your extra-large movie popcorn

This would not be okay with Sen. Harkin
This would not be okay with Sen. Harkin
(Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images Entertainment)

Obamacare may be coming for your extra large movie theater popcorn — all 1,030 calories of it — if two Democratic legislators get their way.

Among its myriad regulations, the health care law includes a small provision requiring all chain restaurants to post calorie count data on their menus. This seems simple in theory but, in practice, has touched off a fierce regulatory battle over what type of establishments ought to be included in this rule.

Movie theaters are among the establishment that lobbied vigorously against being included in this regulation, making the case that selling food wasn't their primary business. If you served popcorn with more than 1,000 calories, you probably would lobby against this regulation too.

The movie theaters lobbied hard and they won: in preliminary regulations, the Food and Drug Administration said the regulation would only apply to establishments that devote 50 percent or more of their square footage to the preparation, sale, and consumption of food. This left movie theaters out as well as grocery stores, golf courses, bowling alleys and other fun locations (ice cream parlors, meanwhile, were not as lucky: they do have to comply with the regulation, and should perhaps consider better lobbyists).

But now Democratic legislators are fighting back: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who both worked on this part of the law, sent a letter Friday to the FDA saying it was their express intent that establishments including movie theaters and grocery stores (another group the FDA left out) should have to post calorie information.

"The aim was not to confine the scope of the law solely to restaurants … but to apply broadly to restaurants as well as other retail food establishments," Harkin and DeLauro write in their letter. "The proposed definition is narrower than that intended by Congress."

Whether the movie theater lobby can win a second round remains to be seen when the FDA issues final regulations on the calorie labels. The fate of popcorn — and ridiculously large packages of cookie dough bites, Sour Patch Kids and those giant sodas that Mike Bloomberg has yet to squash — hangs in the balance.

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