label it a salt war applebees

Label It A Salt War: Restaurants Vow To Sue Over New York City Sodium Label Requirements

There may be a salt war brewing in New York City over brand new menu labeling requirements. As of last Tuesday, restaurants in the city are required to print warnings next to dishes that contain high amounts of salt, but the National Restaurant Association isn’t going to just roll over and take it.

Last September, New York City became the first municipality in the United States to institute a labeling requirement for restaurants that serve dishes that are high in salt content. According to the new regulation, which went into effect last Tuesday, menu items that contain over 2,300 milligrams of sodium must be accompanied by a warning symbol.

new york city salt label
The new salt content warning label will be required on certain menu items, but not at all restaurants. [Photo by Antonio D’Angelo/New York City Health Department via AP Images]

New York Salt Labeling Requirements Hit Some And Leave Others Alone.

The new high sodium warning symbol, which takes the form of a white salt shaker inside a black triangle, must be placed next to each and every menu item that meets or exceeds that 2,300 milligram mark. Restaurants that have only a single location, along with chains that operate 14 or fewer locations within the United States, are exempt from the new label requirements.

Bloomberg Business reports that about two-thirds of the restaurants in New York City fall outside the scope of the new salt labeling regulation, but the National Restaurant Association is prepared to fight for the businesses that are affected.

On Thursday, December 3, just two days after the new regulation went into effect, the National Restaurant Association filed suit against the Board of Health to block the implementation of the new salt label warnings.

Can The National Restaurant Association Win Its War Against The City?

According to a statement issued by the National Restaurant Association, the Board of Health lacks the authority to issue such a mandate, and the new salt labeling rule is unnecessary as a nation-wide FDA menu-labeling law is set to go into effect next year.

“Once again, the board has acted without any legislative guidance and improperly sidestepped the people’s representatives on the City Council,” Angelo Amador, regulatory counsel for the National Restaurant Association, said via the statement. “Its actions, as with the beverage ban before it, are arbitrary in their scope, reach and application.”

Whether or not the National Restaurant Association will prevail in this new salt war remains to be seen. According to Bloomberg Business, New York City has previously required restaurants to label menu items with calorie counts, and banned trans fats, but the National Restaurant Association has been victorious in similar situations.

When the New York City Board of Health attempted to limit the size of sugary drinks sold by local restaurants, the National Restaurant Association took the city to court.

In 2014, the New York Court of Appeals struck down the rule, saying that it held restaurants to a different standard from competitors like grocery stores, which were still able to sell large sugary drinks.

If the National Restaurant Association is right, and the health board did overstep its bounds, then it seems likely that the new labeling requirements could be struck down. However, it may ultimately be a moot point, since new FDA menu labeling requirements will arrive next year anyway.

Why Is Salt So Bad?

The recommended daily allowance of salt for a healthy adult is 2,300 milligrams. So dishes that are now required to carry the high sodium warning actually knock out the entire RDA of salt for a whole day in just that one meal, and that’s for healthy people.

The reason that high salt intake is seen as bad is that it has been linked to conditions like high blood pressure, and may contribute to a higher risk of stroke or heart attack.

In fact, for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain other conditions, many doctors recommend a much smaller intake of about 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day.

According to a report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the city. Although deaths from heart disease declined by nearly 30 percent between 2004 and 2013, the crude death rate attributable to heart disease was still nearly 200 per 100,000 population.

For all that, salt isn’t inherently bad. In fact, a Boston University study found that teens who ate 4,000 milligrams of sodium each day, nearly double the RDA, showed no signs of adverse effects to heart health, as previously reported by Inquisitr.

That study, which followed 2,000 10-year-old girls from childhood through their teenage years, may not have lasted long enough to see long-term effects, or it could be that older, less-healthy individuals see adverse effects from high salt intake more quickly.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, certain high-risk groups are more likely to develop health problems from eating too much salt. For instance, people over the age of 50, and those who already have slightly elevated blood pressure, are at risk of developing health problems from eating high sodium diets.

Label It A Salt War: New York City Versus Restaurants.

While the National Restaurant Association is ready to go to war over salt labeling requirements, some large chain restaurants have quietly rolled over, or taken other measures to dodge the bullet.

new york city menu salt label
Some restaurants, like Applebees, would rather just take their chances with the new salt label, rather than go to war over it. [Photo by Andrew Burton / Getty Images News]
For instance, Applebees rolled out new menus, complete with salt content warning labels, on December 1. Although fines won’t go into effects for months, chains like Applebees aren’t taking any chances.

According to Bloomberg Business, other chains have altered menu items to skirt the salt warning labels. In that vein, Burger King altered its Ultimate Breakfast Platter by simply removing one of the included items, which knocked the sodium content down to 1,680 from 2,380 milligrams.

Likewise, Panera Bread had three menu items that would have tipped the shaker over 2,300 milligram limit, so they simply altered those items to squeak in under the line.

Other chains will have to follow suit, or face fines, unless the National Restaurant Association prevails in its salt label war, like it did in the earlier conflict over sugary drinks.

[Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images News]

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