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Capital NY – City, Health Officials Back Warning Labels on Sugary Drinks

By Nidhi Prakash

During a state Assembly hearing in Manhattan on Monday, city officials and medical experts expressed their support for legislation that would require any drink that contains added sugar and is sold in New York State to come with a label warning of the potential health risks, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

“I would like to think that a warning label is education, informing people,” said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, who introduced the bill in January.

During the joint hearing of the Assembly’s health committee and consumer affairs and protection committee, officials from the city’s consumer affairs and health departments, along with medical experts from New York University’s medical school and the American Diabetes Association, testified in support of the legislation.

“A warning label offers an opportunity to provide consumers with important information at the point of purchase,” said Christine Johnson, assistant commissioner for the city health department’s Bureau of Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control.

Johnson cited the public health costs associated with diabetes and noted that in New York City, 56 percent of adults are overweight or obese.

A representative of the American Academy of Pediatricians suggested in his testimony that including a safety warning on sugary drinks could help prevent childhood obesity and diabetes.

“The pediatricians of New York believe that the Legislature should pass this legislation … Failing to pass this legislation would allow the current dangerous and counter-productive situation to persist,” said Abraham Jelin, nutrition committee co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatricians New York State branch.

Not everyone testifying at the hearing was in support of the bill.

Officials from the Food Industry Alliance and the Business Council of New York City said labels would undermine the ability of some businesses to remain viable in New York, and interfere with interstate commerce.

“We respectfully oppose this bill—the state specific labeling issue and the issues that it creates from top down, from manufacturing to warehousing as well as retail sales,” said Maston Sansom, vice president for state government relations for the Food Industry Alliance. “Mandating a unique label will certainly disrupt interstate commerce.”

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the co-chairman of Monday’s hearing, said supporting the bill does not rule out other, more stringent measures such as taxation and regulation of sugary drinks. Dinowitz also said the measure was not intended to solve the problems of obesity and related illnesses but is rather a starting point.

There is currently no corresponding state Senate bill.

Recent efforts to impose a tax on sugary drinks and limit the size of sugary drinks sold in New York City have failed.