Suit Halts New York City's Misguided Restaurant Salt Warning Labels

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Last fall, New York City's health department adopted the nation's first and only salt warning scheme. The rules, which apply only to chain restaurants, require warnings on most menu items that contain more than 2,300 mg sodium.

At the time of their adoption, Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association, called the rules "just the latest in a long litany of superfluous hoops that restaurants here in New York must jump through."

The National Restaurant Association soon sued to overturn the law. Last month, a judge ruled against the group. City health inspectors had been set to start issuing $200 fines for violations of the rule on March 1.

Bizarrely, New York City chose to erect rules targeting salt even as the basis for those laws is increasingly viewed by leading scientific experts as backward and even harmful. As I recently detailed, the science that allegedly underpins salt warning labels appears, charitably, to be largely unsettled.

"For years government dietary advice has urged Americans to avoid salt," I wrote. "But it's becoming clearer that policies pertaining to salt reflect old science at best and bad science at worst."

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal government's health watchdog, changed its salt recommendations years ago.

"According to new CDC guidelines," Medical Daily reported in 2013, "it's a waste of time and even harmful to reduce one's salt intake too much."

At best, New York City's salt warning labels reflect outdated scientific beliefs. But even if the science were solid, the rules would still be problematic. For example, in suing the city, the National Restaurant Association rightly called the rules "arbitrary and capricious" and "filled with irrational exclusions and nonsensical loopholes."

They're right. Chief among these issues is that the rule only applies to chain restaurants. McDonald's? Yes. TGI Friday's? Yes. 7-Eleven? No. Momofuku? No.

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