Keep Food Legal's lawsuit against the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which we filed last week in the wake of the city's failure to comply with our many requests for information about food policymaking under the Bloomberg administration, has earned some fantastic print coverage--in the form of a New York Post op-ed that appears in today's paper.
The spectacular op-ed, City Hall Legislating in the Shadows, was written by Jeff Stier of the National Center for Public Policy Research.
It's a fantastic read. Here's a snip:
Bloomberg stands accused of not letting the public see how his team made various nanny-state laws and regulations from his (failed) soda ban to his rules against donating food to city-run homeless shelters.
A consumer group, Keep Food Legal, last week sued the Bloomberg administration for allegedly failing to comply with a series of Freedom of Information Law requests going back more than a year. These sought documents from the Mayor’s Office and the Health Department touching on which groups, individuals and outside agencies helped develop the city’s most restrictive food laws and regulations — from the mandatory calorie counts on menu boards to the trans-fat ban, as well as reportedly pending proposals to restrict salt in restaurants and limit happy hours.
The Health Department belatedly offered to provide some information, but the Mayor’s Office completely failed to comply with requests. Yet the state Freedom of Information Law allows only very narrow exemptions to requests like Keep Food Legal’s.
Keep Food Legal’s action, if successful, will send a message to the next [mayoral] administration: You’re free to listen to the most radical outside advisers—but you can’t do it in secret.
Want to support this litigation and our nationwide efforts to defend food freedom? Please donate today.
Keep Food Legal filed suit late yesterday in New York State Supreme Court against New York City’s health department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The lawsuits are the first ever filed by Keep Food Legal.
The information we have sought under FOIL but have been so far unable to obtain—since our first filings, made on June 27, 2012—consists of materials related to the development of New York City's most restrictive food laws and regulations, including the city’s trans fat ban; mandatory menu labeling law; restaurant letter grade system; ban on providing food meant for the homeless and less fortunate; restrictions on urban gardens and farmers markets; and currently enjoined soda ban. Keep Food Legal also requested information pertaining to proposals in the city—reported in the popular press and elsewhere—to limit salt or sodium in foods; restrict tavern licenses and happy hours; adopt so-called “Meatless Mondays;” and crack down on food trucks.
“By its own estimates, New York City’s health department is one of the largest health departments in the world, with more than 6,000 employees and an annual budget of $1.6 billion,” says Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin. “And for much of the past decade, the mayor and his health department have been among the nation’s most aggressive and steadfast opponents of food freedom. Now, after years of attacking food freedom, the Bloomberg administration has set its sights on food freedom of information."
Keep Food Legal’s goal in filing these lawsuits, after more than a year of delay tactics by the city, is to ask the state court to force the Bloomberg administration to disclose to us information about the basis of many of its food policies—and the people and groups that have influenced that policymaking. Keep Food Legal hopes to review and publicize that information in order to raise public awareness about how New York City makes food policy and which people and groups have influenced that policymaking.
“Many activists around the country have hailed the Bloomberg administration as a laboratory for cooking up untested and intrusive policies that limit food freedom,” says Linnekin. “Their hope is that New York City’s misguided, outrageous, and often-unprecedented food policies will spread around the country. This is an important issue of national concern.”
During the course of filing our FOIL requests, we learned that the city has refused even to provide information to Keep Food Legal that it shared freely with the New York Times under a narrower FOIL request made by the newspaper in 2010. We allege in our complaints that so long as the administration maintains a “pattern and practice of non-compliance with FOIL, Keep Food Legal is profoundly hindered in its ability to advocate on behalf of its members and supporters and better serve the public.”
“Keep Food Legal believes that New York City residents and Americans around the country who support a person’s right to make their own food choices want and deserve to know which activists, groups, and government bodies in New York City and around the country—including in Washington—have been involved in shaping the Bloomberg administration’s food policies,” says Linnekin.
Keep Food Legal is represented in this action by the firm of Sheppard Mullin.
Interested media may find contact information for Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin here.
Keep Food Legal was forced to file suit on Oct. 7, 2013 under New York State FOIL because the mayor’s office and his health department have failed for more than a year since our first FOIL filing, in June 2012, to provide Keep Food Legal with vital information on food-related policymaking in the city. Mayor Bloomberg’s office has repeatedly failed to comply with New York State’s FOIL requirements, missing deadline after deadline to respond to our requests. And even on those few occasions when the mayor’s office has promised to respond by a certain date, it has also invariably ignored its own self-imposed deadlines.
Keep Food Legal filed our first FOIL requests with the city in June 2012. We have requested information pertaining only to the basis and deliberation of clearly delineated food laws and policies in the city on dates prior to any request by the city for public comment on those proposed laws and policies. Since our FOIL filing in summer 2012, the mayor’s office has frequently and repeatedly ignored our FOIL requests, going so far as to disregard numerous statutorily mandated deadlines to respond to our FOIL requests. Meanwhile, the health department issued a formal denial of the majority of our requests nearly four months ago, providing Keep Food Legal with the sole recourse of filing suit under New York State Article 78 on or before Oct. 7, 2013.
New York State’s FOIL, like similar state laws and the federal Freedom of Information Act, is one of the most important guarantors of fair and open government. As the New York State legislature declared in enacting the FOIL, “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions.”
Keep Food Legal and our members and supporters believe in food freedom—every American’s right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing. We advocate in favor of choice—not choices. Consequently, we neither advocate in favor of nor in opposition to any particular food choices. While we oppose many of the food policies put into place by the Bloomberg administration, our work is national in scope and includes diverse advocacy, research, education, and outreach on issues like lowering the regulatory burden on farmers markets and food trucks, opposing so-called state “ag gag” laws, ending farm subsidies, combating taxes and other restrictions on soda and fast food, and lifting state and federal bans on raw milk.
Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin took to print, radio, and TV this week to applaud Monday's decision by a New York State judge to overturn New York City's arbitrary ban of certain subjectively large sizes of sweetened drinks like soda. The ban was to take effect this week, but Judge Milton Tingling's welcome decision means the the city will move forward without any such ban.
Watch video of Linnekin above, appearing on Fox Business Channel's Markets Now show with host Dagen McDowell. Linnekin also appeared as a featured guest this week on the nationally syndicated Dennis Miller Show, Curtis Sliwa Show, Andrea Tantaros Show (audio starts at about 19:30), and on America's Radio News Network and Voice of Russia.
As Linnekin noted in each appearance, Keep Food Legal applauds Judge Tingling for rightly acknowledging the ban was a wrongheaded and arbitrary and capricious prohibition passed by an unelected health board whose members were each appointed personally by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The judge's decision is a great victory for consumers and consumer rights and for small and large businesses alike. It's also a stinging loss for a segment of the well-funded, powerful public-health apparatus in this country that seeks to limit food freedom.
Linnekin was also one of five legal experts asked this week by the National Review to comment on Judge Tingling's decision.
“The key thing is that this was an arbitrary and capricious action by the health department, and the court recognized that," Linnekin told NRO's The Corner. "It’s a victory. In general, I’d like to see the court being more vocal in defending people’s rights to make their own choices, but this is definitely a good first step."
Linnekin also spoke with Law360, the popular legal news service, and was quoted at length.
“'Rather than advancing public health policies, this [soda ban] is making people skeptical of public health policies,' said attorney Baylen J. Linnekin of the group Keep Food Legal, which advocates for freedom of food choice and opposes the Bloomberg policy."
While Mayor Bloomberg has already indicated the city plans to appeal the judge's ruling, Linnekin expressed cautious optimism at the prospects of the plaintiffs winning on appeal.
“As confident as the city is, the plaintiffs in this case should be very confident as well,” Linnekin told Law360. “They have victory on their side already.”
Read the comments Keep Food Legal submitted in July in opposition to the city's proposed soda ban, details about Keep Food Legal's oral testimony before the city's health department, and much more about our advocacy work on this issue here.
In a recent appearance on the popular social-media debate site Bloggingheads, Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin was critical of New York City's soda ban. The Bloggingheads video aired just hours before the city's unelected health department rubber stamped (in an 8-0 vote) Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on the sale of most sodas larger than 16 ounces in the city.
Watch Linnekin argue why the Ninth Amendment "presumption of liberty" (along with other portions of the Bill of Rights) affords equal protection to your right to eat a Big Mac, drink a giant soda, or eat a leafy green salad.
If you like the work Keep Food Legal is doing to fight the soda ban in New York City--along with our recent report in support of small farmers and their right to sell at farmers market, our longtime advocacy in support of food trucks around the country, our role in the fight to keep foie gras and dozens of other foods legal in California and beyond--we urge you to donate to Keep Food Legal and become a member today!
Keep Food Legal has been critical of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's outrageous proposal to ban many sweetened drinks greater than 16 ounces.
On Tuesday, July 24 Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin appeared before the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the city agency that may adopt the ban, and spoke out against the ban on behalf of Keep Food Legal's members and supporters in New York City and across the country. You can view PowerPoint slides from Linnekin's presentation here.
Keep Food Legal also submitted written comments in opposition to the ban that same day--also on behalf of its members and supporters in New York City and beyond. An excerpt:
Keep Food Legal, on behalf of its members and supporters, opposes the Proposed Amendment of Article 81 (Food Preparation and Food Establishments) of the New York City Health Code, found in Title 24 of the Rules of the City of New York (the “proposed ban”)....
The most obvious negative intended consequence is that the proposed ban would raise the taxes of New Yorkers—and do so in a most undemocratic manner. After all, at its heart the proposed ban is a revenue “bill” to be voted on by an unelected board that is intended to compel some New Yorkers to pay higher sales taxes. This would occur because a purchase of two sixteen-ounce beverages would a cost consumer more than a purchase of one beverage greater than sixteen ounces—and because sales taxes constitute a percentage of each sale and so rise in relation to the overall price of a sale. Mayor Bloomberg, both predicting and promoting the sale of multiple beverages the proposed ban would foster, said last month that when it comes to customers seeking one beverage greater than sixteen ounces, restaurants could instead “serve it in two” purchased cups.
[T]he proposed ban would restrict food freedom of choice. Mayor Michael Bloomberg opined last month that the right to drink a large soda is not one of the “freedoms.... that the Founding Fathers fought for.” But the proposed ban is (as previously noted) a revenue bill to be voted on by an unelected board. In this way (and others), the proposed ban very much harkens back to those acts of British economic aggression against the American colonies in the 1760s and 1770s—which, like the Sugar Act, nearly always centered on unfairly taxing and restricting food choices—that led the Founding Fathers to fight the American Revolution.
At the close of Tuesday's hearing, Keep Food Legal hosted a fun and fabulous (and well-publicized and well-attended) happy hour and soda salon at the great Northern Spy Food Co., a locavore-friendly eatery in New York City's East Village.
Linnekin has also spoken out against the proposed ban in the media--including on Dennis Miller's nationally syndicated radio show--and devoted two of his recent Reason magazine weekly online columns to the proposed drink ban. You can read those here and here.
What's next for Keep Food Legal when it comes to New York City's proposed ban? Stay tuned. And if you'd like to support our work in this and other areas, we urge you to please become a member of Keep Food Legal.
Keep Food Legal is thrilled to invite our New York City members and supporters to a very special happy hour and soda salon next week at Northern Spy, a highly praised restaurant located at 511 E. 12th St. in New York City's East Village. The happy hour and soda salon will take place from 4-6 PM on Tuesday, July 24.
The soda-themed event will follow on the heels of Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin delivering remarks in opposition to New York City's proposed soda ban at a public hearing held inside the New York City health department headquarters. (Keep Food Legal will also be submitting written comments, something you may do by clicking here.)
Northern Spy, which typically doesn't serve soda, will be featuring large pitchers of artisanal soda for this happy hour and soda salon.
In addition to extra-large artisanal sodas (Mayor Bloomberg notwithstanding), Northern Spy bar staff will be serving up happy hour specials, including $2 off all beers, wines, and cocktail glasses, and $5 off wine bottles. Light snacks will be provided, additional (yummy) food will be available for purchase.
We'll be signing up new Keep Food Legal members during the happy hour and salon (you can pay by check or credit card or join in advance at our website). At 6 p.m. we'll randomly select one Keep Food Legal member (among those New Yorkers present who are already Keep Food Legal members and those who join at the happy hour and salon on Tuesday evening) to receive a $50 gift certificate to Northern Spy!
"This event isn't about promoting soda," says Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin, who wrote about the ban in a recent Reason column. "I could count on one hand the number of sodas I have consumed over the past year. For me and Keep Food Legal, this event is about promoting--and protecting--food freedom of choice."
"Northern Spy is proud to host the Keep Food Legal Happy Hour because we believe in a robust and open debate on food policy and access issues," says co-owner Christophe Hille. "We think that any time one group in a position of power dictates limits on what another group may consume, it's worth at least being skeptical. Beyond that, we love people who love food, which is fair description of Keep Food Legal."
- WHAT: Keep Food Legal Happy Hour and Soda Salon (featuring happy hour specials, artisanal soda, light snacks)
- WHEN: Tuesday, July 24, from 4-6 PM
- WHERE: Northern Spy (bar area), 511 E. 12th St. (East Village)
Opposed to the ban? Agnostic? Come on out and mingle and chat over great food and drink in one of New York City's most respected restaurants. Northern Spy, an acclaimed three-year-old restaurant that's helped New Yorkers learn to love kale and was hailed recently by Obama Foodorama for having the best brunch in New York City, has built its menu "around seasonality and quality, whenever possible using locally grown, raised, caught, and crafted products, procured from people who do those things with care."
We'll be standing and milling about the bar area at Northern Spy from 4-6 p.m. We're grateful to Northern Spy for hosting what promises to be a fun and enlightening event, and we look forward to seeing you there!
For press inquiries, to RSVP for the happy hour at Northern Spy (appreciated but not required), or to suggest a Keep Food Legal happy hour or other event in your city, contact us here!