Lawmakers in California have overseen one of the most surprising turns in the sugar debate, banning any additional taxes on groceries until 2030 and effectively ruling out the expansion of sugar taxes introduced in some cities.
The state assembly passed a bill on Thursday that will make it impossible for cities to follow in the footsteps of Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland in implementing a new sugar tax of their own. It was signed by California governor Jerry Brown over the weekend.
The bill, dubbed the Keep Groceries Affordable Act, means that rates will be maintained on all grocery items from milk and poultry to bread and coffee – but it is sugar-sweetened soft drinks that get the most attention, given a reprieve in the face of increasing regulatory pressure.
The moratorium on fresh taxes will remain in effect for the next 12 years.
Critics have called it a victory for the sugar lobby, which has spent vast sums in recent years opposing sugar taxes such as the one introduced in San Francisco at the beginning of the year. According to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, governor Brown has dined with the American Beverage Association – as well as representatives from PepsiCo and Coca-Cola – in the last month.
But Brown insists that the bill is a better alternative to a beverage industry ballot that would have made it harder for cities and counties to generate tax.
Signing the bill, governor Brown wrote: “Out of 482 cities in the state of California, a total of four cities are considering passing a soda tax to combat the dangerous and ill effects of too much sugar in the diets of children. In response, the beverage industry has circulated a far-reaching initiative that would, if passed, raise the approval threshold from 50% to two-thirds on all measures, on all topics in all 482 cities. Mayors from countless cities have called to voice their alarm and to strongly support the compromise which this bill represents.
“The initiative also contains language that would restrict the normal regulatory capacity of the state by imposing a two-thirds legislative vote on what is now solely within the competency of state agencies. This would be an abomination.
“For these reasons, I believe Assembly Bill 1838 is in the public interest and must be signed.”
The American Beverage Association said the ban would “provide protections for working families, our customers and our consumers”.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019