Judge Upholds NYC Law Requiring Foods High in Sodium be Labeled with Warnings

Judge Upholds NYC Law Requiring Labels on Foods High in Sodium

Justice Eileen Rakower of New York State Supreme Court decided Wednesday to uphold a September 2015 decision requiring chain restaurants to post a warning label on foods high in sodium.

The National Restaurant Association had sought a preliminary injunction against the measure, saying that the sodium rule was “arbitrary and capricious,” according to the New York Times. They argued that the Board’s mandate constituted policy-making and not a warning; the former is only permitted by a legislative body.

The judge, however, did not agree. “Information promotes autonomy,” Rakower said after just over an hour of arguments. “It is a warning.”

The approved warning label is a saltshaker encased in a black triangle, which will indicate any menu item that contains more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, the daily limit recommended by the federal health guidelines and equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt. By comparison, New Yorkers consume on average 3,000 milligrams of sodium per day, Politico New York reports. The warnings on foods high in sodium were required to be posted by December 1; $200 noncompliance fines are to go into effect March 1.

The decision reinforces current nationwide consumer demands for more transparency about the contents of food. Panera Bread, which has 1,900 restaurants across the country, said it welcomed the warnings on foods high in sodium for this very reason.

Attorney Preston Ricardo argued that the sodium rule, “doesn’t apply in a way that is logical or rational” and would cause “irreparable harm” to chain restaurants. Health officials said that chain restaurants were targeted specifically because a disproportionate share of the restaurant meals served in New York tend to contain a large amount of sodium.

After the judge’s ruling, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association said it would be exploring appeal options. “With respect to her analysis, such as it was, we disagree with it,” Ricardo said. “It’s just one judge. We hope an appellate court will see things differently.”

The original measure was passed unanimously by the Board of Health and applies to restaurants with 15 or more locations nationwide.

The requirement has been contrasted with the proposed sugary drink ban introduced by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2012; this proposed ban on soft drinks larger than 16 ounces was rejected. The sodium measure, which does not regulate the sale of items, is much more appropriately linked to the posting of calorie counts on menus, a law that was first enacted in 2009 and applies to the same sphere of chain restaurants with 15 or more nationwide branches. Non-compliance with this rule can incur fines of up to $2,000.

The sodium measure was created to help combat heart disease; Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, who helped write the rule, said that the salt warnings would address “the leading cause of death in the United States and in our city.” In addition, an estimated 30 percent of New Yorkers are hypertensive and should avoid foods high in sodium.

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Salt image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco