Healthier Kids or State Gone Wild?

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

SB 1192 (Monning) would require restaurants marketing meals to children to make the default beverage either water or milk, essentially prohibiting soda, juice, and chocolate milk. This is only in the marketing or menu listing, and doesn’t prohibit the sale of other beverages to the children.

In Assembly Health, a broad coalition supported the bill, including healthy groups and local YMCA’s. No opposition came forward. For CALmatters, Elizabeth Castillo reporting on the bill wrote, “The California Restaurant Association has not taken a position on the bill, and the American Beverage Association is neutral, writing in a letter to Monning that it “is committed to increasing access to beverages with less sugar and smaller portions in stores and restaurants.”

The bill passed Assembly Health 12-0, with 3 Republicans abstaining. One Republican, Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), joined majority Democrats in voting “aye.” On the Senate Floor, 5 Republicans joined Democrats for a 32-7 vote. 

From a political perspective, you have to assume that the unwillingness of the American Beverage Association to step in to the fight is that they are on the defense at the state and local levels on much bigger battles. Some cities are looking at taxing soda like cigarettes. And, as we just saw in San Francisco, where menthol and other flavored tobacco products were banned in the June 5 election, this is a real threat when put in the hands of voters.

And, of course, water, sparkling water, and flavored water are sold by the most influential members of the American Beverage Association. Dasani is produced by Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo produces Aquafina.

The chair and vice-chair of the American Beverage Association are from PepsiCo’s beverage division and from Coca-Cola, respectively. The president of PepsiCo North America is also on the board, as is the president of Coca-Cola North America, and there are several other members of the board from each company.

Nestlé owns Arrowhead water, and is regularly the target of protests for its Sacramento plant that uses municipal water (mostly from the Sacramento River) for its Pure Life Purified Water Drinking Water brand. This was heightened during the water crisis when residents were told to stop watering their lawns and washing their cars and as the Capitol grounds turned brown. Arrowhead is spring water, obtained from its namesake and from springs in El Dorado, Placer, Tuolumne and Napa.

Nestlé is not on the beverage association’s board, but its water products are a tiny share of the Swiss company’s holding.

Nevertheless, the water products produced by these big brands are among the highest profit items for these companies. So, while they may not like the reduction of choice for kids ordering combination meals, it’s a wash for the brands–or perhaps even a net positive. Buy municipal water, filter it like you could do with a $30 attachment to your home tap, and put it in a bottle. For the other beverage brands of these companies, they do the same thing, and then have to pay for corn syrup, dyes, and flavorings. So, you can see why they can sit on the sidelines on this bill.

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