Judge yanks teeth out of New York salt law, one day before fines were to begin

Just days after a judge struck down a restaurant trade group’s challenge to the new sodium-labeling law, another judge boosted the group's case today by temporarily halting its enforcement, which would have started tomorrow.

New York City Health Department/AP/File
This icon of a salt shaker is intended to serve as a graphic warning to NYC consumers of high salt content in foods. A judge temporarily blocked the city from fining restaurant chains that fail to post this label on menu items that top the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That's about a teaspoon.

One day before New York City could start fining chain restaurants if they break a new law requiring them to label high-sodium menu items, a New York appeals court temporarily halted its enforcement.

A judge halted the law Monday in response to a request by the National Restaurant Association, a restaurant trade group that, according to its website, has been fighting the emasure since Mayor Bill de Blasio first proposed it in June, arguing that it is unfair and burdensome to restaurant owners.

“The association is pleased by today’s decision to grant emergency relief for the men and women that own and operate New York’s restaurants from this unlawful and unprecedented sodium mandate,” the association said in a statement.

The issue has become the latest flashpoint between Americans seeking more information about the food they consume and those who are uncomfortable with government intervening in how people choose to eat.

Just last week, Justice Eileen Rakower of New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled in favor of the city, pointing out that the law did not restrict the use of sodium, but only required chains to provide consumers with a cue to make an informed decision.

"Information is power," Justice Rakower said in her ruling on Friday, according to Reuters. 

That ruling appeared to clear the way for the city to begin fining restaurants up to $600 for failing to comply beginning on Tuesday. Monday's ruling from the appellate court puts that on hold.

The law took effect in December. New York City has already banned trans fats at restaurants, and required the posting of calorie counts on menus. It also tried, but failed, to ban oversize sodas in 2014.

The sodium rule is likely the first of its kind in the country. It requires city restaurants with 15 or more locations nationwide to post a warning symbol next to menu items with more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, the daily limit recommended by the federal government.

The city’s Department of Health said in a statement that it will continue to warn chains that are not compliant with the new law, though it won’t be able to issue violations.

“We are confident, despite the stay of enforcement for now, that the court will uphold the sodium warning rule," said the health department in a statement.

The court will decide likely later this month whether to continue halting the fines until it rules on the restaurant association's appeal.

This report uses material from Reuters.

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