The Washington Post reported this morning that as part of the government spending bill adopted late yesterday, Congress will require that the Interagency Working Group’s (IWG)  Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts undergo a formal cost-benefit analysis before it can be issued as a final guidance.

The provision bars the Federal Trade Commission from spending money on finalizing the Nutrition Principles until it complies with a January 2011 Executive Order which, among other things, calls for agencies to perform cost-benefit analyses when issuing regulations.

When crafting the initial draft, the IWG agencies’ reasoning was likely in line with that of Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Margo Wootan, who told the Post, “There are no mandatory requirements and there are no mandatory costs.” The agencies involved in the IWG, including FTC and FDA, wield enormous authority over food and beverage producers, and it is pure folly to believe that the regulated entities would ignore what their regulators would suggest.

The FTC’s thoughts on how the Nutrition Standards should be received by industry were made apparent in a July 15, 2010 memo from FTC staff to Bureau of Consumer Protection head David Vladeck. This memo came to light at a House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on October 12. The memo uses language that solidifies the case that the Nutrition Principles are anything but “voluntary” guidelines (“set rigorous standards for all foods”; “sending a strong signal to industry”).

In that hearing, government witnesses verbally rolled their eyes at arguments that compliance with the Nutrition Standards would cost food and beverage makers billions of dollars.  Now they’ll have to put on their green eyeshades and take those numbers a bit more seriously.