BY AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
The National Restaurant Association plans to file a lawsuit this week to try and block a New York City regulation requiring high-sodium warnings on some restaurant menu items.
The labels kicked off a new era in nutritional warnings on Tuesday and are believed to be the first of their kind in the country.
The rule requiring them was created by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Under the regulation, an emblem of a saltshaker encased in a black triangle must be placed next to any menu item that contains more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, roughly equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt.
The regulation applies toward any restaurant chain with 15 or more locations nationwide and requires the establishments to post a warning statement where customers place their orders.
The restaurant trade association will file before the end of the week in New York Supreme Court, said spokeswoman Christin Fernandez.
“It’s important to note that under the FDA’s national menu labeling law, calorie counts will be available on menus and information like sodium will be provided to consumers upon request, hence the reason why we think this is counterintuitive especially as we advocated for one uniform standard with FDA,” Fernandez said. “Also important to note, just because a restaurant flies under the banner of a large brand that does not mean they are corporate owned. It could be a single franchisee that owns one or two restaurants. So this new rule will be overly burdensome as restaurants are already reprinting their menu boards.”
Chains had until March 1 to comply before the possibility of being fined, but the lawsuit will likely throw off that timetable.
“The American Heart Association is disappointed that the restaurant industry has prioritized an unsubstantiated burden over the need to be more transparent with its consumers,” said Robin Vitale, senior director of government relations for the American Heart Association. “New Yorkers deserve the right to more easily know if food items have dangerous levels of sodium. The Sodium Warning Label rule is aimed at empowering the consumer — particularly the majority of us with elevated risk of hypertension, heart disease and stroke — to make healthier choices.”
This is not the first time the National Restaurant Association has made a legal challenge to health initiatives passed by New York City.
In 2012, when the city tried to limit the size of sugary drinks, the organization’s lawsuit blocked the regulation. The ruling never was implemented because the New York State Court of Appeals ruled the board “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority.”
New York has often been on the forefront of health initiatives. The city was one of the first to ban smoking, ban trans fats from restaurant meals and require chain eateries to post calorie counts on menus.
“New York City’s common-sense approach and gumption in its efforts to reduce sodium consumption should lead the way for public health officials across the country and in the Obama Administration,” Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., president of the Center Science in the Public Interest said in a press release.
The warning label rule, which passed unanimously in September, does not limit how much sodium can be in food and does not penalize restaurants that serve food with more than the recommended daily amount. Instead, it is meant to help consumers understand and identify the sodium levels in their food choices.
It was meant to make sodium levels more transparent as health advocates, federal regulators and some in the food industry try to educate Americans about the dangers of too much salt.
Increased sodium intake leads to elevated blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for strokes and heart disease.
Americans currently consume more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, more than double the amount recommended by the AHA for ideal cardiovascular health.
“When you see this warning label, you know that that item has more than the total amount of sodium that you should consume in a single day,” city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said Monday at a news conference at an Applebee’s in Times Square. Forty of the chain’s New York City-area locations announced they had added the labels ahead of the deadline and lawsuit.
Chain restaurants constitute one-third of all restaurant traffic in New York City. Evidence suggests that health warnings increase knowledge and can lead to decreased purchase and consumption of certain products, according to the New York health department.