Lawsuit aims to chop menu info

A federal lawsuit served up by fast-food chains is threatening to nix San Francisco’s plan to require chain restaurants to list nutritional information on their menus.

The California Restaurant Association, which represents chains including McDonald’s and Burger King, filed the lawsuit late Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco against both The City and its Public Health Department.

The complaint seeks to invalidate the menu labeling ordinance, which goes into effect Sept. 20, claiming it is unconstitutional. The law requires restaurants with more than 20 locations statewide to post calories, carbohydrates, fat and sodium on their menu.

On Monday, California Restaurant Association President Jot Condie said the San Francisco ordinance was inflexible and would hurt local restaurateurs. Condie said the issue should be handled at the state-level to avoid a vexing patchwork of local laws.

A municipality having a menu labeling law that differs from a neighboring municipality’s law creates a lot of confusion, not only for restaurants but consumers, Condie said.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the 59-page lawsuit was nearly as bloated as Burger King’s Triple Whopper Sandwich with Cheese.

“I think it’s outrageous that fat-peddling chain restaurants are asserting a First Amendment right to keep consumers uninformed about the nutritional contents of their menu items,” Herrera said in a statement.

The City’s menu-labeling ordinance does not ban or restrict a single food, it requires that consumers have better data to make choices. City attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey said he was encouraged by the failure of a similar challenge to New York’s menu labeling law in April. In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Holwell held that the city’s ordinance is not pre-empted by federal law and does not violate the First Amendment.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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