Rule to put calorie information on menus is temporarily defered

Fast food restaurants in New York are getting a temporary reprieve from a rule requiring them to put calorie information on their menus.

The new regulation covering about 2,000 city eateries was on track to take effect on July 1 until it was challenged in court last week by the New York State Restaurant Association.

The restaurants complained that the menu boards that hang above their counters would become a cluttered mess if they have to include a calorie count for every item they serve. The regulation requires calories to be listed as prominently as the price.

Lawyers for the city said Tuesday that they would delay enforcement until Oct. 1 to give both sides more time to prepare for the legal fight.

After that, restaurants that fail to comply could fail a health inspection and be subject to fines.

The practical effect of the change in the enforcement date will be small. The city had always planned a three-month grace period before it began assessing fines. But now health inspectors will not begin recording violations at all until October.

Several restaurant chains, including Burger King and McDonald's had already said they planned to defy the new rule.

Health Department officials said in a statement that despite the delay in enforcement, the law will still be on the books come July 1, and they hoped restaurants would voluntarily comply.

The restaurants argue that New York City Board of Health exceeded its authority and unfairly singled out fast food when it crafted the rule late last year.

The new rules only apply mainly to the big, fast-food chains, not the thousands of delicatessens and pizza shops that pack the city.

Restaurants could avoid the rule by yanking nutritional information altogether from public view.