In recent weeks, California legislators have introduced two bills that would require new warning labels for sugary drinks and food products with artificial ingredients. Like California’s famed Proposition 65, which requires warnings for any products containing any one of approximately 800 chemicals on the Prop 65 list, enactment of either of these bills would likely push many food and beverage makers to reconsider their use of various ingredients not just in California, but nationwide.
SB 300 — The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Health Warning Act
The recently introduced SB 300 would require drinks containing more than 75 calories per 12 fluid ounces that have added caloric sweeteners to bear the following warning on their containers “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.” Similar point-of-sale warnings would be required in any premises where a vending machine or beverage dispensing machine is located, or where sugar-sweetened beverages are sold in an unsealed beverage container. The bill specifically excludes drinks containing 100 percent natural fruit juice or natural vegetable juice; drinks mainly made from animal milk or milk substitute; infant formulas; and certain beverages made specifically to serve as “dietary aids.”
Similar bills were introduced in 2004 and 2015, though neither passed. In introducing SB 300, Sen. Bill Monning stated, “Officials and public health advocates have heightened their criticism of sugar as a key contributor to health epidemics like obesity and diabetes, and California has become a major battleground in the fight against what they say is excessive sugar consumption.”
While the civil penalties for violations of the act would be minimal ($50-$500), enactment of this bill would likely result in renewed attempts at failure-to-warn lawsuits against the sugar-sweetened beverage industry. We expect that there will be heavy pushback from the beverage industry. The bill is set for hearing on April 19.
SB 504—The Protecting Californians from Synthetic Food Dyes Act
SB 504, also recently introduced in the California Senate, would make it a crime to manufacture, package, sell, offer to sell, distribute, or import for sale or distribution within California any food that contains synthetic dyes without a prescribed label, either on the food packaging itself or on the shelf or bin where the food is displayed for bulk foods. The bill would require any food products containing synthetic dyes to contain a warning to consumers that synthetic dyes can cause behavior problems and/or hyperactivity in children.
Although the industry is likely to oppose this bill as well, several leading snack companies have already committed to removing synthetic dyes from their products. For instance, in 2015, Nestlé USA announced that it would remove artificial colors and FDA-certified colors like Red 40 and Yellow 5 from more than 250 products and 10 brands, replacing them with ingredients from natural sources. In 2016, Mars announced that it would remove all artificial coloring from its products. And just this month, Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins announced a similar move.
SB 504 was recently referred to the California Senate Committee on Health, but has yet to be assigned a hearing date.