This regular publication by DLA Piper lawyers focuses on helping clients navigate the ever-changing business, legal and regulatory landscape.
- Four cities pass ballot measures to tax sugary drinks. Four US cities – San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California and Boulder, Colorado – passed ballot initiatives on November 8 that will impose taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The voters’ actions were considered a significant loss for the beverage industry and a win for health advocacy groups. Jim Krieger, the founding executive director of Healthy Food America, called the votes “a historic turning point” and said his group has already heard from similar organizations that are supporting such tax initiatives in a dozen other cities. Berkeley, California, became the first city to pass such a soda tax in 2014, and Philadelphia followed earlier this year. Joe Arellano, a spokesman for those who opposed the current California measures, said that soda taxes are regressive and unlikely to reduce consumption of sugary drinks. “It’s not the correct way to drive change,” Arellano said.
- Meanwhile, in Chicago. On November 10, Cook County’s board of commissioners passed the controversial penny-per-ounce Sweetened Beverage Tax, with Board President Tony Preckwinkle casting the tie-breaking vote. Preckwinkle says the measure is expected to bring in $224 million a year in urgently needed revenue. The Chicago Tribune reported this week that in advance of the vote, the Chicago airwaves were flooded with ads both for and against the measure, which will add 72 cents to the price of a 12-ounce six-pack. Cook County now becomes the largest region in the US with a beverage tax.
- USDA organic panel will review carrageenan later this month. On November 16, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), convening in St. Louis for its regular semiannual meeting, is set to consider carrageenan and its legitimate use in organic foods. Carrageenan is made from seaweed and is used as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifying agent to keep the ingredients in many soft, creamy, and liquid products from separating. The companies that make carrageenan say it is safe, but some health advocates claim that the substance has the potential to cause gastrointestinal inflammation and other adverse health effects. Carrageenan was first approved by the NOSB in the 1990s. If disapproved at the meeting, carrageenan will need to be removed from organic foods by 2018.
- Jacobson relinquishes leadership of CSPI after 45 years. After 45 years as executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, co-founder Michael Jacobson is stepping down in September 2017 from his leadership role and will instead become the group’s chief scientist. Jacobson has long been one of the public faces of the food safety and health movement, and has led numerous campaigns to change food and beverage regulations – among them the establishment of the mandatory “Nutrition Facts” on packaged food labels, the FDA’s elimination of trans fats from the nation’s food supply, and the modernization of the nation’s food safety laws. CSPI is starting a nationwide search to find its new executive director. It announced Jacobson’s new position on November 2.
- Supplement industry expands its beta testing program for labeling information. The nutritional supplement industry has launched a new phase of its beta test of its new Supplement Online Wellness Library (OWL). In the new phase, supplement manufacturers are free, as of November 1, to input their labels to the registry, prior to its formal opening in January. Nine companies served as the original beta-testers. Tier 1 of the registry, which is open now, will include a copy of the complete product label and various fields of information about the product, including ingredients, brand name, allergen statements, and number of servings. Participation in this tier is free for any company willing to supply the required information about its products. The information will be accessible online at no charge to the public.
- Tito’s Vodka wins case on alleged deceptive statements. On September 27, a US District Judge in the Northern District of Florida granted summary judgment in favor of the manufacturers of Tito’s Handmade Vodka in a case that had alleged a violation of express warranty due to deceptive labeling. The alleged deception consisted of the statements that the vodka was “handmade” and manufactured “in an old-fashioned pot still.” Tito’s vodka is made in a pot still, but the plaintiffs alleged that the pot still is not precisely of the same type that was used 100 years ago and therefore is not “old-fashioned.” The judge said this contention “assigns to the term a meaning far more precise and restricted than the term ordinarily bears,” and he granted summary judgment for Tito’s.