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Connecticut governor pledges to back soda bill

By staff reporter , 02-May-2006

State governor Jodi Rell has pledged to sign a bill that would make Connecticut the fourth US state to ban sales of sodas and other sugary beverages in state elementary, middle and high schools.

The strategy, which is part of an effort to stem teen obesity, represents an about turn for Rell, who threw out a similar proposal last year.

Last year, Rell threw out the bill because it "undermines the control and responsibility of parents with school-aged children".

 

State Senate president Pro Tem Donald Williams, who sponsored the legislation, estimated that soft drink and vending companies spent more than $250,000 lobbying against the bill out of concern that it would set a national precedent.

 

But the weight of pressure for action to be taken to tackle the problem has been such that the governor has been forced to reconsider.

 

The State Senate approved legislation banning the sale of soda in Connecticut schools last month. The bill, which is now due to be voted on in the House of Representatives, would restrict the types of beverages sold in schools to include products such as 100 percent fruit juice, milk, which may be flavored but must contain no more than 4g of sugar per ounce, and water, which may also be flavored but must contain no added sugars or sweeteners.

 

The proposed bill would also provide incentives for schools to sell healthy food and snacks in accordance with guidelines set by the Department of Education. The schools that comply with the guidelines would be eligible for more financial resources to improve the quality of their school lunches.

 

Senator Williams said last month that he was pleased with the victory of the new bill in the Senate, but that he "fully expects the lobbyists for the huge soda companies to launch an all-out assault on House members in an attempt to kill the measure in that chamber."

 

Earlier, Senator Williams accused the Coca-Cola Company of providing greater financial incentives to push sugary sodas on Connecticut school children at the expense of water and fruit juice drinks that it also owns and markets.

 

Speaking at a press conference on April 6, the Senator cited the beverage sale contracts between Coca-Cola and the Southington and Bridgeport Public Schools showing the sales commissions the schools get for the sale of soda are at least 25 percent higher for soda than for other drinks the company sells, such as bottled water.

 

He claimed that in the Southington contract, the high school gets 45 percent of the soda sales and 36 percent of all other sales. In Bridgeport, the figure is 38 percent for soda and 30 percent for all other beverages.

 

The battle in Connecticut is just another indication that the pressure on the food and beverage industries is unlikely to abate, with increasing attention being focused - both in individual states and nationally - on improving school nutrition.