Sodium Warnings Will Stay On The Menu In NYC After Court Ruling

Nine months after a New York court denied a request from a restaurant trade group to stop New York City’s rule requiring warning labels on foods high in sodium from going into effect. The eateries took their gripe to an appeals court, which today ruled that these warnings aren’t going anywhere.

The regulation was first approved by the city’s Board of Health in Sept. 2015, and requires chain restaurants to include a salt-shaker-like icon next to any menu item with more than the daily recommended dose of sodium, 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon).

The National Restaurant Association first sued in Dec. 2015, arguing that health regulators had gone too far. In Feb. 2016, a lower court ruled in favor of the city’s health department. A few months later, a panel of justices from the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Manhattan said the city could start enforcing the rule as planned in June, while the trade group’s lawsuit appeal was still pending.

Today, another panel from the appellate division agreed [PDF] with the lower court that NYC’s Board of Health “did not exceed their authority” in requiring the warning.

The panel concluded that the rule “has a rational basis, and is not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious,” despite the trade group’s claims to the contrary.

The board had argued that because the rule applies only to large fast food chain restaurants, it is arbitrary and capricious. However, the court found, the board made the rule applicable to chain restaurants “based on health considerations and for the purpose of making the Rule possible to comply with and administer. Accordingly, this aspect of the Rule has a rational basis.”

The National Restaurant Association had also argued that the regulation failed to meets its goal, because ostensibly, a customer could order items separately, each of which does not by itself exceed 2,300 mg of salt, but when consumed together exceed the recommended daily salt limit.

“However, as plaintiff points out, federal law will soon require that these same Chain Restaurants make the sodium content of each menu item available,” the justices wrote. “Accordingly, the same hypothetical customer can also determine the total sodium content of an a la carte order.”

The city is pleased as punch with the panel’s decision.

“This rule helps New Yorkers make informed decisions that can contribute to lower sodium intake,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “The Health Department will continue developing polices that uphold our mission of promoting and protecting the health of all New Yorkers.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has long championed the idea of presenting nutritional info on menus, applauded the ruling.

“Now that the courts have ruled that New York City’s sodium warning notices can continue to stay on restaurant menus, we hope other cities, and even states, consider enacting similar measures in their own jurisdictions,” CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement. “Once again, New York City and its Department of Health and Mental Hygiene deserve credit for their pioneering work helping New Yorkers and its many visitors reduce their risk of diet-related disease.”

The National Restaurant Association says it’s now going to explore all its legal options moving forward after today’s ruling.

“Local mandates on sodium regulation are a costly and onerous burden on all New York City restaurateurs,” Cicely Simpson, Executive Vice President, National Restaurant Association said in a statement. “Instead of confusing state and local mandates, we believe the best approach to disclosing nutrition information is the uniformed national menu standard that will go into effect this year.”