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NYC v. NaCl: City Sued Over Salt Warning Labels

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 15, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ah, New York City. The Big Apple. The Five Boroughs. The Modern Gomorrah. Home of constitutionally-protected sex shops, topless ladies, and gigantic sodas. The City That Never Sleeps is truly a wonderland for all the heart and stomach desire. Except salt.

NYC is requiring restaurants to add a new warning label for any menu item that contains too much salt, but restaurants are not going along without a fight. The National Restaurant Association sued the City, saying health regulators are overstepping their bounds and getting the science wrong. So who's going to win this epic battle between city and sodium?

A Dash of Heart Disease

The New York City Board of Health instituting the new rule forcing chain restaurants to put a black and white salt-shaker icon next to menu items containing more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, which at about a teaspoon is the recommended daily limit. As the Board points out, "Cutting down on salt helps prevent and control high blood pressure," and "Most of the salt we eat - almost 80% - comes from packaged, processed and store-bought food, and from restaurant meals (including fast food)."

So it was only natural to target restaurants with more than 14 nation-wide locations with the labeling requirement. That way, diners can be confident that the cheeseburger they are about to order comes packed with about 4,000 mg of salt, and they won't be wasting their hard-earned money on some flavorless imposter burger.

A Pinch of Litigation

The restaurants returned fire, filing a lawsuit just days after the order went into effect. According to the AP, the restaurant association's filing calls the salt warnings "nonsensical" and claims the labels violate restaurant owners' freedom of speech: "Ironically, this regulation will confuse and mislead consumers into potentially making less healthy food choices through the law's spotty, inconsistent application and inaccurate scientific distortions."

That's right -- you might see that salt shaker logo and correctly think, "Mmmm, yes, that's looks flavorful." New York City couldn't save you from delicious sugary beverages, but maybe it can save you from delicious salty burgers.

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