NYC to hold off on menu-labeling enforcement

NEW YORK City health officials have agreed to postpone enforcement of the menu-labeling mandate slated to go into effect here July 1 because of a legal challenge filed Friday by the New York State Restaurant Association. The estimated 2,000 restaurants affected by the labeling requirement would in effect have a reprieve until Oct. 1.

The NYSRA filed the lawsuit against the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to block enactment of the labeling rule, which would oblige some restaurant chains to post calorie counts on their menus or menu boards. The suit asserts that the department overstepped its authority in December when it adopted the requirement as part of a limitation on the use of trans fats by restaurants.

The labeling stipulation requires chain restaurants already offering calorie counts via the Internet, food wrappers, tray liners or brochures to add the information to menus and menu boards starting July 1. It is believed to be the first menu-labeling mandate in the nation. Since the health department approved the measure, similar proposals have been aired in a number of cities, counties and states.

The health department had indicated some time ago that it would not issue fines until Oct. 1 to chains that failed to post the calorie information. But a failure to comply with the rule would have been noted by sanitation inspectors, who could levy fines of $200 to $2,000 once the three-month phase-in period ended.

Now, the departmetn said, inspectors will not start to notify operators who are out of compliance until Oct. 1. But the health department indicated in a statement that it hopes restaurants will voluntarily comply with the labeling rule.

The restaurant industry has fought against menu-labeling requirements because of the logistical challenge of finding enough room to include the data, and the complications of providing accurate data when customer orders are increasingly being customized.