NYC can force eateries to warn of salt content

Court gives nod; menus will highlight items containing more than a teaspoon of salt

NEW YORK • Salt must soon be on the menu - very visibly - at hundreds more chain restaurants in New York City, after a court cleared the way for the city to enforce a rule requiring many eateries to alert consumers to food items with high salt content.

Some chains, such as Applebee's, TGI Friday's and Subway, have voluntarily started including the menu icon - a saltshaker in a triangle - with an explanation that items bearing the symbol contain more than 2,300mg, or about a teaspoon, of salt, the daily limit recommended by many nutritionists.

But other chains have held back, and the National Restaurant Association, a trade group, said it would continue a court challenge to the rule, which was approved by the Board of Health last year.

The rule went into effect in December, but a court ruling blocked the city from enforcing it. The Appellate Division of the New York state Supreme Court lifted the enforcement ban on Thursday.

"This is really important to the health of New Yorkers," Dr Mary T. Bassett, the city's health commissioner, said.

Dr Bassett said that excessive amounts of salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, which is considered a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. She said about 40 per cent of people are believed to consume more than the daily amount recommended.

The labelling rule applies to restaurants with at least 15 stores nationwide. It also applies to some theatre chains and some vendors in sports stadiums. The health department said about 3,000 chain restaurants in the city would be affected by the rule. The symbol will appear on menus and menu boards, although some restaurants might not sell items that exceed the limit and therefore will not display the symbol.

The restaurant industry said the costs of implementing the rule would be a burden to restaurant owners, including franchisees who may operate just one or two outlets. An industry official also worried about how customers might interpret the saltshaker symbol.

"You have a radioactive symbol for an essential nutrient," said Ms Christin Fernandez, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, which is based in Washington. "This is the first of its kind. It looks like a poison symbol."

The menu labelling rule represents a foray by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, into territory pioneered by his predecessor, Mr Michael Bloomberg, who often drew fire from the restaurant industry over pushes to police New Yorkers' diets.

Mr Bloomberg, a political independent, ordered chain restaurants to list the number of calories for each menu item in the hopes of fighting obesity.

He banned most uses of transfats in restaurants. And he tried to halt the sale of large soft drinks - a move that was successfully challenged in court by the restaurant industry.

The fine for not complying with the new menu labelling rule is small - just US$200 (S$275) - but Mr Thomas Merrill, the general counsel of the Health Department, said restaurants risked losing their permits if they did comply.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'NYC can force eateries to warn of salt content'. Print Edition | Subscribe