The Legal Low-Down on Soda

Fri, Jun 22, 2012

General Legal Issues

The Low-Down on SodaIt’s summertime in Florida and a refreshing drink is what you need to cool you down. Is soda your go-to beverage? You are not alone. And this year, soda is in the news—in New York and in California especially. New York is proposing legislation that changes the ability to super-size sugary drinks. California is focusing on an ingredient called 4-methylimidazole and the caramel coloring that gives lots of soda its signature brown color. SmithLaw thought an examination of soda would be a refreshing (and surprisingly legal) topic for the summer.

New York City
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a law that would ban restaurants and some other establishments from serving sodas (and other sugary drinks) that are larger than 16 ounces. He is saying it is a good way to help fight the obesity epidemic in America. As you might have noticed, this has cause much debate in New York and elsewhere. Coca-Cola and other soda manufacturers have expressed concern, as have the establishments that serve these drinks. None of them is too happy.

It is up for debate whether the courts will uphold this law. Many legal commentators are saying it could pass, since the government is able to ban all types of things with the right evidence to back it up. Many food vendors are concerned the law might not stop with soda and be passed on to other types of foods. Most of these vendors feel New York is overstepping its bounds and potentially the FDA’s territory.

Another recent law banned trans-fat in New York City. This law did not face as much opposition and passed easily. Anti-smoking laws are quite common in restaurants and other establishments these days too. Looks like the super-size soda law is not meeting with as much approval! A recent article on TIME’s health blog has detailed information about the ban and some other similar ones that you might find to be of interest.  


California has recently decided to include a chemical called 4-methylimidazole on their list of chemicals that can cause cancer. This has affected soda manufacturers and other companies using caramel coloring in their food or beverages. It seems that this chemical is a natural by-product of the coloring and is not added to anything specifically. For more, check out this article that delves into the scientific side of things. (After reading a bit on the subject, it seems that caramel coloring does not have much to do with actual caramel at all!) This article from TIME’s health blog also has some interesting info on the subject.

So, soda companies were faced with a dilemma. Keep their tried- and true-formula and have a cancer warning attached to their product (in California at least) or change the formula enough to remove the chemical. Looks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi decided to change their formula enough to meet the standards in California that allow them to leave their product unlabeled. The formulas will be changed nationwide, so that their product will be manufactured the same throughout the United States.

The next hurdle is a proposed ban on all caramel coloring. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is proposing that the chemicals in it cause cancer and should not be sold in any products. The FDA is looking into this.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also recently sponsored the first National Soda Summit in May in Washington, DC. Along with other sponsors, the CSPI, brought health advocates, educators, and public health authorities together to discuss the risks of soda consumption and its relationship to health problems like diabetes and tooth decay.



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