Proposed California Bill Goes After Sugary Drink Makers

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

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.