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Will New York Kill McDonald's?

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A ridiculous proposal to ban salt in restaurants would prove disastrous to the industry.

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In what the New York Times calls "one of the odder developments to come out of Albany," Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn has introduced Assembly Bill A10129, which would forbid restaurants from using salt in the preparation of food in an attempt to reduce heart attacks, hypertension, and strokes.

The bill reads, in part, "No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off the premises."

If the measure is passed, restaurants would be fined $1,000 for each instance of salting a customer's food, whether "before, during, or after cooking." Customers, however, would have the option of adding salt when food is served.

Steve Barnes of the Albany Times Union wrote that the "deeply misguided" law, if passed, would "ruin restaurant food and baked goods as we know them" and told Minyanville that Ortiz's bill would "devastate the restaurant industry."

What would this mean for companies like McDonald's (MCD), Burger King (BKC), Wendy's (WEN), Taco Bell (YUM), and Starbucks (SBUX)?

"Local restaurants could possibly find some way to adapt, but chains would have no way of staying in business because they simply can't manufacture their food without salt," Barnes said. "I can't see an outfit like McDonald's fundamentally altering their product line just for New York State."

When Barnes spoke with Ortiz, the assemblyman admitted he "did not research salt's role in food chemistry or his bill's ramifications for the restaurant industry" and that he "plans to continue eating ham, cheese, and bread" -- all of which contain salt and cannot be made without it, Barnes noted.

Barnes describes the bill as exhibiting "profound ignorance" -- a view echoed by Melissa Fleischut, vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association, who said Ortiz "doesn't seem to have all the facts about how salt is used in restaurants and how it is necessary to food preparation.

"We'll have to schedule talks with him and try to explain," she told Nation's Restaurant News.

Even Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who is a longtime advocate of salt reduction in the American diet, doesn't endorse Ortiz's proposal.

"Limiting sodium requires more a scalpel than a meat axe," he said.

If the idea of legally mandated unsalted fries isn't depressing enough, removing salt completely from our diets may even lead to actual depression.

Kim Johnson of the University of Iowa found that "rats that are deficient in salt shy away from activities they normally enjoy" and that "a salt deficit… can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression."

Rather than adding even the slightest modicum of clarity to the issue, an emailed statement from Ortiz's office only served to confuse the situation further:

"My intention for this legislation [is] to prohibit the use of salt as an additive to meals," it read. But if salt is a "functional component of the recipe" then "by all means, it should be included."

Uh… come again, assemblyman? Actually, on second thought, please don't.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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