Californians shoot down three food and beverage-related ballot measures

Zachary Snider | Contributor

California residents of Sacramento, Richmond and El Monte voted down three local ballot measures on Tuesday, all of them related to the food and beverage industry.

Beverage Measures

The cities of Richmond and El Monte proposed measures to tax sugar-sweetened beverages in an effort to raise money for health programs and decrease the consumption of high-calorie beverages linked to obesity and diabetes.

Richmond and El Monte have particularly high rates of overweight and obese children.

In El Monte, only 23 percent of voters backed Measure H, which would have implemented a penny-per-ounce-sold tax on businesses that sell any of the more than 700 brands of sugar-sweetened beverages. El Monte officials estimated that the measure would have generated between $3 million and $7 million of general fund revenues for the financially crippled city.

In Richmond, voters overwhelmingly shot down a similar proposal, Measure N, which city officials estimated could have provided $2 to $4 million of increased revenue.

The American Beverage Association contributed more than $2.5 million to help defeat the measure in Richmond, as well as an additional $1.3 million in opposition to the measure in El Monte.

Accompanying measures that dictated where tax revenue would be distributed were also proposed in both Richmond and El Monte.

In Richmond, Measure O would have advised city officials to use the tax money to promote youth health and recreation programs.

In El Monte, Measure C recommended that revenues pay for public safety, parks and recreation and wellness programs.

The measures failed in both cities, largely because residents believe they pay enough taxes. Many business owners also claimed the tax would hurt their companies.

“It’s going to kill my business,” Maria Varelas, owner of Golden Ox restaurant in El Monte, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. “I’m going to lose money.”

Despite the measure’s failure, Richmond city council member John Ritterman remained optimistic.

“We took a lot of criticism that this tax was more appropriate on the state or national level, and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see those efforts take hold, too,” Ritterman told Mercury News.

Food Proposition

In Sacramento, voters turned down Proposition 37, which would have required labels on food made with genetically engineered ingredients.

The passage of this proposition would have been the first of its kind in U.S. history, but the initiative lost by six percentage points.

Between 70 and 80 percent of processed foods sold in the U.S. are made with genetically engineered ingredients, which are modified to increase their resistance to pests and weeds.

Proponents of Proposition 37 say consumers have a right to know what foods have been genetically altered because of potential long-term health effects like allergies and organ damage, which they say are evident in industry research.

The opposition for the measure, backed by $45 million from major agribusiness and chemical companies, said that it would stigmatize certain foods proven to be safe.

“We said from the beginning that the more voters learned about Prop. 37, the less they would like it,” Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for the opposition, told the San Francisco Gate. “We didn’t think they would like the lawsuits, more bureaucracy, higher costs, loopholes and exemptions. It looks like they don’t.”

Stacy Melken, a Proposition 37 spokesperson, said she believes her side will eventually win the debate.

“We showed that there is a food movement in the United States, and it is strong, vibrant and too powerful to stop,” Melken told the San Francisco Gate. “We always knew we were the underdogs.”

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