Industry Group Files Suit Over NYC Salt Warnings

Industry Group Files Suit Over NYC Salt Warnings
General Health

Just days after some restaurants in New York City started putting warnings on their menus about the high salt content of certain dishes, an industry group has filed a lawsuit accusing health regulators of overstepping their legal bounds in enacting the first-of-its-kind requirement.

The National Restaurant Association filed suit just 2 days after the city started requiring chain restaurants to put a salt-shaker icon beside menu selections containing more than 2,300mg, the daily limit recommended by nutritionists. [1]

The group says in the complaint that the Board of Health unfairly burdened restauranteurs and arrogated the power of the City Council by forcing restaurants with more than 15 establishments to place the warnings on their menus.

The rule is backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who says the move is intended to lower blood pressure and cut the number of heart attacks and strokes. Eighty percent of adults in New York eat more than the daily recommended amount of sodium. [2]

“Ironically, this regulation will confuse and mislead consumers into potentially making less healthy food choices through the law’s spotty, inconsistent application and inaccurate scientific distortions,” says a copy of the suit, which the association said it filed in a Manhattan court late Thursday.

The association argues that the salt warning is “nonsensical” as it applies only to some food vendors and not to others, and that the rule violates restaurant owners’ free speech by forcing them to post a warning they say is based on “scientifically controversial opinion.”

The NYC Law Department says it will review the claims but was “confident that the Board of Health has the authority to enact this rule.” Jennifer Pomeranz, a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s College of Global Public Health, agrees. She says the government has the power to force businesses to disclose to disclose factual information about products for sale, including dishes on menus.

“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,” Pomeranz says, adding that the association’s argument that the board overstepped its authority might be slightly strong, but the board is still likely to come out on top.

“It might just be a longer battle,” she says.

The association says that if the city wants to put warnings on menus, it needs to do so in a uniform manner that would offer consumers throughout the country with the same information. Currently, only restaurants with more than 15 locations in New York City are required to warn customers about sodium content. [3]

The group points out that new federal regulation is set to take effect next year as part of the Affordable Care Act that will require establishments with 20 or more locations to share calorie counts and other nutritional information – including sodium content. The association says New York’s rule undermines efforts to establish a national standard and is unnecessary.


[1] ABC News

[2] Reuters

[3] Bloomberg News