The great sodium labeling debate is far from over: after a judge ruled last week that New York City could force chain restaurants to mark menu items with excessively high sodium content, industry lobbyists promised to continue the legal bottle, and yesterday a judge ordered a temporary halt on enforcement.
Sodium labeling, the NYC Health Department's latest health crusade, would require chain restaurants with 15 or more locations nationally to put an ominous salt shaker icon next to any menu item that exceeds the CDC's daily recommendation for sodium intake (3,200 milligrams, or about one teaspoon of salt). Health officials have said that this labeling requirement would apply to about 10 percent of menu items at the city's chains.
The measure was approved unanimously by the Board of Health in September, and some restaurants began displaying the labels when the rule went into effect in November—but others weren't so cooperative, and the city was set to begin fining restaurants up to $600 for noncompliance.
The labeling requirements do not apply to independent restaurants, which has led the National Restaurant Association [NRA] to accuse the city of unfairly targeting chains. After a judge upheld the Board of Health's measure last week, an NRA spokesperson said that the move was "a blow to small businesses owners—the franchisees that own and operate New York's restaurants," and said that the association would explore all legal options going forward. That included requesting an emergency halt to enforcement of sodium labeling requirements while the measure is under judicial review, and yesterday the request was granted.
In a statement, a lawyer for the NRA said that "the Association is pleased by [the] decision to grant emergency relief from this unlawful and unprecedented sodium mandate to the men and women who own and operate chain restaurants in New York City...We now look forward to a full and fair opportunity to make our case before the Appellate Court." But the Department of Health isn't worried:
We are confident, despite the stay of enforcement for now, that the court will uphold the sodium warning rule. The Health Department will continue to warn chains if they are not compliant, but will not issue violations while the stay is in place. The sodium warning remains critical information New Yorkers need to protect their hearts and their health.
In the meantime, we can all continue to enjoy our Dunkin Donuts salt bagels and Quizno's footlongs in blissful ignorance.