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December 4 2015

Mandatory Salt Shaker Labels Hit NYC Menus

Patrice J. Lee

‘That’s too much salt for you’ says the New York City Board of Health. They won’t be standing over your shoulder as you dine, but the new salt shaker labels on menus will be all the finger-wagging you need.

Beginning this week, new menu label rules kicked in for restaurants with 15 or more locations and concession stands at some movie theaters and ballparks. Target: salty meals. Menus will bear a symbol of a salt shaker in a black triangle beside items that have more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg - approximately one teaspoon. The new standards will apply to about 10 percent of menu items at NYC chains according to the city’s health officials. These eateries generate about one-third of the city’s restaurant traffic.

Violators will face a $200 penalty for non-compliance beginning March of 2016. We can expect many businesses to violate this. A national association of restaurants plans to file a lawsuit against the city’s health department because it’s going to be a burden to comply with the salt rules. Politico reports:

“While the Board of Health thinks they are targeting corporate chains, in reality they are dealing yet another blow to many of New York’s small businesses that have been working and continue to work hard to provide nutritional access to their customers," said Christin Fernandez, spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association. "That is why we are taking legal action against this latest assault which goes too far, too fast for New York’s restaurant community."

The idea behind the salt shaker symbol is supposed to be to make it easier for diners to understand how salty their choices are - similar to posting calorie counts. It’s also a shaming tactic to get restaurants to limit the sodium on their menus according to MarketWatch:

And a study published in the journal Health Affairs in November 2015 showed that, in an analysis of 66 of the largest U.S. restaurant chains, those that voluntarily followed national menu labeling rules had lower calorie counts per menu item than those that did not post nutritional information. As a result, the study’s authors said labeling could have “important effects on the food served in restaurants.”

Another analysis in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine of diners in Philadelphia, where menu-labeling laws have required full-service restaurant chains to post values of calories, sodium, fat and carbohydrates for every item since 2010, showed that customers at labeled restaurants made healthier choices.

The problem is, it’s questionable whether the government salt rules represent real medical knowledge and also whether these mandates actually work:

But a recent study in the November issue of Health Affairs, conducted by researchers at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, showed that in an analysis of almost 8,000 fast-food customers in New York and New Jersey, diners consumed the same number of calories in 2013-14 as they had in 2008, when menu labeling was first imposed. The researchers’ conclusion was that menu labeling on its own at fast-food restaurants would not lead to a lasting reduction in calories.

Passed by the state health board in September, this new labeling represents an official coronation as a nanny state mayor for Michael de Blasio. He is filling big shoes as his infamous predecessor Michael Bloomberg targeted, salt, soda, trans fats, smoking, and adding calorie counts to menus. Let’s not forget that ObamaCare plays a role in forcing menu labels on us.

Health experts hope that other cities and states will follow New York City and add shakers to their menus as well.

Daily it seems like bureaucrats armed with some new study find a way to tell us how to live our lives. In some cases, telling us is not enough. Because they think we can’t rely on common sense to make good judgments they ban products, foods, and activities that we enjoy.

One-size-fits-all mandated approaches are akin to take a broad roller brush to issues that are really more complicated. No two people are exactly the same and setting limits on how much salt or sugar each person should consume doesn’t account for the biological differences of individuals.

Good health is a great goal for everyone, but state and federal regulators mandating how we obtain and maintain good health are interfering in our own decisions. It has also yet proven to make a difference.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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