Bid for Warning Labels on Sugary Drinks Dies in California

(CN) – California’s bid to require warning labels on sugary beverages died in committee Tuesday, another win for the soda industry and added consternation for public health advocates.

“Maybe we can bring this back next year and there will be enough votes on the health committee to protect the health of Californians,” said a visibly frustrated state Sen. Bill Monning, the bill’s author.

The fate of Senate Bill 347 mirrored that of other bills looking to take on the soda industry. A law that sought to tax sugary drinks and ban supersize sodas failed in committee earlier this year.

But unlike previous ones that also failed to graduate to the legislative floor, SB 347 would not have levied taxes or otherwise impeded consumer choice, according to its advocates.

“It’s just a science-based healthy warning label,” Monning, D-Carmel, said.

Flojaune Cofer of Public Health Advocates told lawmakers 46% of black and Latino children in California are pre-diabetic.

“Warning labels are three times more effective than just calorie labels,” she testified.

But opponents said the law would be onerous to manufacturers across the Golden State, cost middle-class jobs and fail to address broader issues related to obesity.

“There has been a 26% reduction in sweetened-beverage consumption and 36% from youth in recent years, and obesity rates during the same time have actually risen,” said John Latimer, lobbyist for the California Retailers Association.

Latimer testified the soft drink industry is unfairly scapegoated and argued soda makers are making more low-calorie and zero-calorie offerings to accommodate the public’s desire for healthier options.

“We cannot be the sole driver of a much broader problems and this does not warrant the only state sanctioned warning label,” he said.

Several lawmakers agreed.

Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, said he could not support the bill because he believes the health problems described by public health experts has several explanations including a lack of exercise, and the soft drink industry was being unfairly blamed.

“More needs to be done with how we bring up our young,” he said during the hearing.

Cofer said the warning labels are not only about obesity, but also diabetes and cavities.

“Focusing on obesity is convenient,” she said. “Obesity is one of three things called out on the label that occur as a consequence.”

But the legislators were unmoved.

Assemblyman and committee chair Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, expressed frustration with the bill’s demise, said the state was going to pay for its failure to invest in education.

“It’s costing us billions,” he said. “There is a lack of drive to invest in education, so we spend tons of money on treatment.”

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