The city council of Berkeley, Calif., has become the first municipal body to pass an ordinance requiring food stores to carry healthier food and beverages at checkout. The councilors voted unanimously in favor of the measure, believed to be the first of its kind, at least in the United States, at a Sept. 22 meeting, The Mercury News reported.
The ordinance, which applies to stores larger than 2,500 square feet, will swap soda and chips at checkout for fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, whole grains, and chewing gum and mints without added sugars. Beverages must contain no added sugars and no artificial sweeteners, while food products must have no more than 5 grams of added sugars and 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.
About 25 stores in the area – home to approximately 120,000 people – will be affected by the measure, among them Safeway (a banner of Albertsons Cos.), Whole Foods Market, CVS, Walgreens, and local independent grocers Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market.
“The healthy checkout ordinance is essential for community health, especially in the time of COVID-19,” noted Berkeley City Council member Kate Harrison, who co-authored the measure with fellow member Sophie Hahn. “What is good for Berkeley customers is also good for our businesses.”
The vote was the culmination of a grass-roots campaign that began in 2017 with the city’s sugary drink tax advisory commission and the Healthy Berkeley community grants program created by the tax initiative. Healthy Berkeley grantee Bay Area Community Resources headed a youth advocacy team that galvanized the community via petitions, surveys, and gatherings to push a city-wide policy.
“This is a massive win for consumers and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, when grocery stores are more integral to our well-being than ever before,” noted Ashley Hickson, senior policy associate at the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. “By offering healthier options at checkout, stores will contribute to advancing public health and level the playing field for consumers during an already stressful time. Berkeley’s historic action will build momentum for future efforts to improve the food retail environment at the state and local level.”
In Berkeley, African-American residents are four times more likely than white residents to be diagnosed with diabetes, and 14 times more likely to be hospitalized because of it, with similar health outcomes prevalent across the country for people of color, according to background information on the ordinance. Doctors and nutritionists have long warned of a link between an unhealthy diet and the development of health conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
According to Harrison and Hahn: “Enforcement should be focused primarily on positive education and secondarily on traditional enforcement. Enforcement of the ordinance may be incorporated into the regular inspections of food retailers conducted by the city. Spot checks of items sold in each aisle is sufficient to monitor compliance.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council has delayed the effective date of the ordinance to March 1, 2021, with enforcement not starting until Jan. 1, 2022.