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Proposed California Bill Goes After Sugary Drink Makers

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday February 18th, 2014 | 4 Comments

sugary_drinks_California_legislation_moneyblognewzIf a California state senator has his way, sugary drinks will eventually be treated the same way that regulatory agencies treat cigarettes: as a health risk.

Sen. Bill Monning of Carmel, Calif., has introduced a bill to the state Senate that calls for warning labels to be placed on all sugary drinks. That includes drinks sold in vending machines and distributed in school cafeterias.

The new bill, which proposes to add an article to the state’s Health and Safety Code called the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Safety Act, would be California’s latest attempt to regulate food and drug merchandizing. The Sherman Food, Drug and Cosmetic Law of 2008 (which regulates the branding of food among other items) and the Pupil Nutrition, Health and Achievement Act of 2001 both preempt federal food and drug laws and control what food manufacturers do to market items in the state. The two acts also make businesses that sell those products (either across the counter or in a vending machine) responsible for knowing what is being sold on their premises.

The proposed bill, which went into circulation last week, has already caused a fair amount of controversy. That may be in part because of Monning’s 2013 attempt to impose a tax on sugary drink sales, which proposed a 1-cent tax on each ounce of highly sugar-sweetened drinks. The monies collected would have gone to a fund to support nutrition education and research, which supporters said would help combat the epidemic of obesity and health problems now plaguing many communities. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee 11 months after being proposed because of lack of votes to carry it forward.

The topic of this bill, however, promises to elicit a much more visceral reaction from consumers and parents who oppose the high number of sugar-sweetened drinks on the market, and who are concerned about the nutritional options at schools. It is co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and draws its strengths from the federal Food and Drug and Cosmetic Act, which makes it illegal to misbrand food (as well as regulates the percentage of actual juice that must be in a drink to be called “juice”), and the two state acts, which were put in place as a buttress against abuses that California lawmakers felt weren’t being addressed by Washington.

The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Safety Act does have some hurdles to overcome, however. Store owners will probably not be enamored by the extra paperwork it creates, which requires vendors to keep records “including legible invoices and purchase orders, to determine the quantity and type of sugar-sweetened beverages distributed, purchased or sold” for a period of two years after the sale.

sugary_drinks_jmaworkAnd manufacturers of sugar-sweetened drinks who don’t like the proposed legislation won’t have far to look for support in the food industry, since legislation that highlights the detrimental consequences of sugar aren’t always popular conversation-makers. Will products like ready-to-prepare corned beef, mustard, jams, bread, French fries and Cheerios be next to receive a warning label?

If the Monning-Steinberg doesn’t make it into law this time, perhaps the senators will turn their attention toward ensuring that supermarkets and other third-party vendors don’t call sugared juice drinks “juice” in their store advertisements. As California has proven in the past, its groundbreaking legislation sometimes has a tendency to influence federal laws as well. Ensuring that stores stay true to the limitations imposed on manufacturers is a healthy step toward ensuring that consumers stay informed.

Image of orange soda: Moneyblognewz

Image of grape and cranberry juice drink cocktails: Jmawork


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  • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

    I like the spirit of this proposal but I agree the extra bureaucracy and paperwork needed would really be a pain… though perhaps it would be an incentive for stores to stop carrying sugar drinks? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    • J_N_Lee

      I’m curious as to the impact it would have on the topic of sugar in foods in general. The fact that it is a state bill (not a federal one) may lessen the focus on this issue, but it still has the chance to rev up dialogue on the fact that sugar is used in foods and recipes that traditionally never required it, which I would think would add to the calories and blood sugar concerns expressed in this bill. Looking forward to seeing what happens!

  • The Matrix

    Shocking. We need more and more laws to just have people behave like human beings. No wonder we and our children are sick.

    Interesting game though. One generation creates problems, other generation suffers and the next generation passes laws to protect us from the first generation behavior and the second generation problems. And sometimes the solutions creates other problems and the generational game begins…

    • J_N_Lee

      Thanks for your comment. Good point. Of course, one of the issues that perpetuates that (from my view) is that the first generation and second generation don’t always have the scientific knowledge behind them that the third “game-changing” generation has. While I think our parents and grandparents knew sugar wasn’t a great choice and could create obese kids, cancer and heart disease was never associated as starkly with that risk. But yes – I wonder where we would be today if 40 years ago we had heeded the good advice not to ramp up sugar additives in food. That part has been common sense for eons.