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Senator Bill Monning (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)
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RECAP: SB 347, When Safety Warnings Nearly Made It To Soda Cans

SB 347 would have mandated safety warnings on ‘sugar-sweetened beverages’

By Evan Symon, September 17, 2019 3:30 am

After a tough Senate battle lasting over a month, the soda warning bill has been postponed until next year.

What was it? Senate Bill 347. Scheduled for implementation in 2021 if passed, SB 347 would have established the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act. The Act would have prohibited the sale of most types and sizes of sugar sweetened drinks. This included soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and virtually any beverage that had sugar artificially sweetening it. Vending machines in some locations would have had to include a warning label as well.

Who Backed It? 

SB 347 was brought forward by Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel). Monning has been championing warning labels on sugared drinks since 2014, and before the 2019 session, he had brought similar bills up through the Senate 3 times.

“California continues to see a rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes among its residents, and physicians are seeing these health impacts appear in patients at younger and younger ages,” Senator Monning said in an earlier statement.  “Strong and compelling scientific evidence clearly shows that drinking sodas, sports drinks, and other sugary beverages heightens your risk for these preventable chronic diseases.  Consumers have the right to know about these harmful health impacts.”

Support among other Senators is largely split and is, for the most part, party-based.

Also backing the bill was health experts and some parent groups. Both were worried about the health risks and the impact large amounts of sugar can have on people.

What happened?

Unlike Sen. Monning’s past bills, such as SB 300 in 2017 that didn’t even make it to a committee, SB 437 had time to find the right language to pass. For the first time, a sugar drink warning label not only made it past committees, but it passed the Senate in late May. It should be noted that it barely made it past, ending with a 21-11 slim margin of victory

What followed was an all-out blitz by sugared drink companies. In 2017 and 2018, the Soda lobby spent $11.8 million. This was in part to repeated warning label bills. In 2019 they spent millions more, including a particularly intensive June where they had constant meetings with politicians all over Sacramento.

A month of intense lobbying, as well as campaigns from consumer choice advocates and business leaders concerned about the full implications of a label, did the trick. SB 437 was officially declared inactive after the Assembly health committee didn’t go with it. On July 2nd Senator Monning himself, while expressing disappointment, put forward hope that it would be passed next year after a successful Senate run.

“Unfortunately, the power of this industry is influencing a health committee in the state Legislature. A health committee that should be here to protect the health of the people you represent,” Monning said.

Current Status:

SB 437 is expected to be back next year after another year of disappointment for supporters for the bill. Even with the soda lobby, hopes are higher than previous years that 2020 will be the year that it finally gets passed.

Evan Symon

Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at evan@californiaglobe.com.
Evan Symon
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