New York City’s sodium warning survived this challenge by industry group the National Restaurant Association.

In September 2016, CSPI and other public interest groups submitted an amicus brief in support of New York City in litigation brought against its proposal to require warning icons on chain restaurant menus next to items that have more than a days’ worth of salt.

The Lawsuit and District Court Ruling

The warning was challenged by National Restaurant Association (NRA), which argued, among other things, that the proposal violated the First Amendment and was preempted by federal law because it imposed labeling requirements in addition to those mandated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).

A New York trial court upheld the ordinance in February 2016, and the NRA appealed that decision to the New York Appellate Division.

Our Amicus Brief

We submitted an amicus brief to the New York appeals court to explain the public health benefits of the warning, why it did not violate the First Amendment, and why it was not preempted by the FDCA.

The amicus brief furthered CSPI’s long-standing sodium reduction efforts. Excess sodium in the diet, much of which comes from restaurant food, promotes hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. The sodium warning gives consumers the freedom to choose healthier options and inspires restaurant chains to offer a wider variety of items lower in sodium.

The Appellate Court Ruling

In February 2017, the New York appeals court affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of New York City. The court determined that the warning did not violate the First Amendment because it was “factual, accurate and uncontroversial” and served the City’s interest in informing the public about the health risks associated with high sodium consumption. The court also held that the warning was not preempted because it fell within the FDCA’s health warning exception to preemption. The NRA did not appeal that decision, and the sodium warning remains in effect today.

In addition to CSPI, the other groups joining in the brief were American Heart Association, American Medical Association, ChangeLab Solutions, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Medical Society of the State of New York, National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, National Association of County and City Health Officials, National Association of Local Boards of Health, New York Academy of Medicine, New York State Public Health Association, New York State American Academy of Pediatrics, Public Health Association of New York City, Public Health Law Center, and the Food Trust.

Status: Closed

Outcome: Upheld sodium warning  for restaurant chain menus

Amici: CSPI and coalition of 14 other public interest groups

Counsel: Richman Law Group, Public Good Law Center, ChangeLab Solutions, and Public Health Law Center

Jurisdiction & Case Number: 15-654024 (1st Dep't NY)