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Warning label for sugary drinks passes California Senate

By Jennifer Chaussee

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - A bill to require sugary soft drinks to carry labels warning of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay passed the California Senate on Thursday, the latest move by lawmakers nationwide aimed at persuading people to drink less soda.

The legislation next goes to the state Assembly, where it is likely to continue to face an ongoing tug-of-war battle between the U.S. food and beverage industry and public health officials, who have lobbied for the measure. Governor Jerry Brown would then have to sign it into law.

If implemented, the measure would put California, which banned sodas and junk food from public schools in 2005, in the vanguard of a growing national movement to curb the consumption of high-calorie beverages medical experts say are largely to blame for an epidemic of childhood obesity.

"Liquid sugar is a significant and unique driver of obesity, preventable diabetes, and tooth decay,” said Democratic state senator Bill Monning, author of the bill. "Some people accuse this (bill) of nanny governing and yet it is the government that’s responsible to protect the public health and safety of its people.”

In 2012, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spearheaded a citywide ban on sales of oversized sugary soft drinks, but the move was declared illegal by a state judge after a court challenge by makers of soft drinks and a restaurant group. New York's highest court has agreed to hear an appeal.

The California measure, passed on Thursday by a 21-13 vote in the state Senate, marks the second time that Monning, who represents the central coastal area around Carmel, has tried to influence consumers' drink choices.

Last year, he backed an unsuccessful measure that would have taxed soft drinks.

“Putting government warning labels on more than 500 beverages will do nothing to change personal behaviors or teach people about healthy lifestyles,” said CalBev, the California arm of the American Beverage Association, in a statement. “The last thing California needs is more warning labels.”

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)

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