Beginning next month, New York City restaurants will have to warn diners about dishes with large amounts of salt or face a fine. Rejecting objections from the National Restaurant Association, a judge on Wednesday upheld New York City's controversial requirement that restaurant menus warn diners about dishes containing large amounts of salt. "It's information," said Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower in striking down a request for injunction filed in December by the National Restaurant Association. "I believe information is power."
Under the city's Health Department rule, icons of salt shakers set inside a black triangle must appear on menus next to items containing more than 2,300 milligrams, which many nutritionists say is the maximum a person should consume in a single day.
The NRA contends that the rule unfairly targets chain restaurants and says the white-on-black icon is unnecessarily scary-looking.
The rule, which went into effect in December, applies to chains with 15 or more locations nationwide. Starting on March 1, restaurants can be fined $200 for failing to comply.
Many larger chains including Applebee's and Subway are already in compliance.
In a statement Wednesday, Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI's president, said the rule "may well lessen the burden of heart disease and stroke, especially for minority populations who suffer disproportionately from those illnesses." Some observers have predicted that other cities or states might now follow New York City's lead. The NRA has called for a national standard to avoid a confusing mish-mosh of state and local rules.
The NRA's lawyer, S. Preston Ricardo, reportedly argued on Wednesday that the rule could harm the business of chain restaurants by sending diners to eateries that aren't covered by the measure, but where the meals might be just as salt-laden.
The city's Health Department argued that the warnings don't regulate salt content, and diners are free to ignore them.
How bad is salt, anyway?
The ruling comes as the science surrounding salt intake is becoming murkier. While health researchers generally agree that overconsumption of sodium can lead to hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, recent studies have indicated that it might not be so clear what levels of consumption are unsafe for which people. Other studies have indicated that underconsumption might also be a problem, at least for some people. All of this has left both policymakers and the food industry uncertain as to how to approach the issue.
Some restaurants have responded to the rule by decreasing the salt content of some items. Panera Bread, for example, cut the amount of salt in three of its sandwiches, including the Bacon Turkey Bravo -- an item specifically cited as containing more than 2,300 milligrams of salt by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a report last year.
Whether restaurants decide en masse to cut back on salt to avoid having to include the warnings remains to be seen. The decision will likely come down to which chains are targeting which eaters. It might be hard to imagine a diner who is intent on scarfing down a Peanut Butter Cup Pancake Breakfast at Denny's (sodium content: 2,670 milligrams) being put off by a warning icon . But that's now for Denny's to decide.