New York City has been sued by the National Restaurant Association over its new law requiring chain restaurants to post warning labels on dishes that contain an entire day’s worth of recommended sodium. The National Restaurant Association, which represents more than 500,000 businesses, says that the city’s health board overstepped its authority.
The rule requires all chain restaurants with at least 15 nationwide to label any menu item that has at least 2,300 milligrams of sodium. These dishes are identified with a salt shaker symbol. The new policy was created by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Previously, the city had banned trans fats, required menus to post calorie counts and limited the size of sugary sodas. However, the soda limitation policy was overturned by New York’s highest state court. The other policies successfully made it through court challenges.
The current lawsuit has yet to be served to New York City officials. Law department spokesperson Nick Paolucci says that city officials have expressed confidence that the health board has the proper authority to enact the new rule.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the sodium policy is in violation of the First Amendment, because it forces its members to voice an opinion that they might not necessarily agree with.
An attorney for the restaurant association Preston Ricardo said, “Once again we have an example of renegade regulating by the Board of Health in their effort to be trailblazers and grab headlines.”
However, the salt warning is likely to hold up in court because the state government has the authority to require companies to disclose factual information about their products.
Clinical assistant professor at New York University’s College of Global Public Health Jennifer Pomeranz said, “We have a plethora of warning labels on things, everything from toxic substances to tobacco, and now we’re moving towards having warning labels on foods.”
According to Pomeranz, the best argument of the National Restaurant Association is that the health board overstepped its authority. But even then, Pomeranz believes the city will prevail. It will just lead to a “longer battle”. She also thinks that the actions of New York will inspire other cities to take similar actions.
Pomeranz said, “New York City’s been a nation-leader in its health efforts. I do think that this would influence other jurisdictions to pass a similar measure."
The sodium policy went into effect on December 1. Citations won’t be filed for violators until March. At that point, restaurants can be fined up to $200 for not posting the appropriate labels.
Many restaurants have slightly changed their menu items as a way of getting just under the 2,300 milligrams of sodium limit. That way, they won’t have to put warning labels on their menus.
According to the city health department, the excessive consumption of sodium can result in high blood pressure and increase one’s risk of stroke and heart disease.