Restaurant reps speak out against NYC’s proposed salt-labeling rules

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to require all New York City chain restaurants to label high-sodium foods on their menus has drawn criticism from opposing corners.

Some public-health professionals described the measure as too weak, while the restaurant industry has denounced it as too onerous.

On Wednesday, representatives from both sides of the debate testified at a public hearing at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Queens. The city’s Board of Health, a panel appointed by the mayor, is slated to vote on the proposal in September.

If approved, a salt-shaker symbol would appear on menus and menu boards next to items containing more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, which is the daily limit recommended by federal guidelines. The requirement would apply to chain restaurants that have at least 15 locations nationwide.

Several health professionals lauded the administration for recommending warning labels on salt-heavy foods, but they said the proposal, albeit better than nothing, doesn’t go far enough.

Laurie Tansman, a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Hospital, testified that she supported the proposal, “but only if the threshold for identifying high-sodium items is lowered to greater than 500 milligrams per serving.”

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-advocacy group, applauded what he called a “groundbreaking public-health initiative.” But, he said, “it’s an extraordinarily conservative approach.”

Meanwhile, restaurant groups criticized the proposal as overly burdensome.

Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in an interview that many restaurants are concerned about whether the icon would be required next to items that typically feed multiple people.

For example, a 14-inch “Original Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Lover’s” pizza at Pizza Hut has 8,560 milligrams of sodium, which would merit a salt-shaker icon. But a slice has 1,070 milligrams, which wouldn’t. An official from Pizza Hut didn’t respond to an inquiry.

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