San Francisco is poised to be among the first cities in the nation to ban toys in Happy Meals after the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance this afternoon setting nutrition requirements for meals with youth-oriented marketing techniques.
The board voted 8-3 to ban the practice in meals lacking fruits and vegetables or with excessive calories, sodium, fat or sugar–a move that supporters called a bold yet appropriate way to tell the fast food industry it needs to do things differently.
The ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Eric Mar, passed with enough votes to override a mayoral veto and is scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, 2011. Mayor Gavin Newsom has expressed opposition to the proposal, which would impact more than 50 restaurants in San Francisco.
“This is a tremendous victory for our children’s health,” Mar said in a statement. “This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first and join the range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment.”
Mar said he introduced the legislation because childhood obesity rates in San Francisco are “disturbingly high,” particularly among children of color.
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, a late supporter of the ordinance, said he hoped the passage would inspire officials in other cities to follow suit.
He said during the meeting that the measure was like David versus Goliath and that he intended for it to be a message to the fast food industry.
“You can market whole wheat products,” he said. “You can market carrots. If you have to put a Shrek doll with a packet of carrots, maybe that’s what you have to do, but there hasn’t have been a real incentive for this industry to do that.”
Opponents of the measure have said it would cause confusion and chaos at local restaurants and undermine parental choice and responsibility.
Scott Rodrick owns 10 of San Francisco’s McDonald’s restaurants and has spoken out against the measure throughout the hearing process.
“Disappointed is an understatement,” he said of today’s vote.
Rodrick said he has spent months in dialogue with officials and other stakeholders concerned about childhood health. He said he was disappointed by the “maniacal focus” on kids’ meal toys as opposed to broader approaches to fighting childhood obesity.
“For me this conversation is not over,” he said.
Both he and a spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA said the decision infringed on consumers’ right to choose.
“We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said in a statement. “It’s not what our customers want nor is it something they asked for.”
The nonprofit Corporate Accountability International said toy giveaways have been a leading way to market junk food to kid since McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal in 1979.
Fast food chains sell more than 1 billion kids’ meals with toys to children ages 12 and younger each year, according to the nonprofit.
Newsom, however, has expressed opposition to the legislation.
Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said that although the mayor has supported other nutritional initiatives, this one would be “dictating how a private restaurant wants to market its food, some of which includes healthy choices already.”
Mar said in September that he was working to “educate his colleagues as much as possible” in order to get the eight votes needed to overturn a mayoral veto.
Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu and Michela Alioto-Pier voted against the measure.
Janna Brancolini, Bay City News