Beverage industry, lawyers duel over sugary drink limit in New York City

Opponents are raising questions of racial fairness alongside other complaints as the novel restriction faces a court test.
By JENNIFER PELTZ Published: January 24, 2013
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The city's limit on the size of sugary drinks is an “extraordinary infringement” on consumer choice, a lawyer for the American Beverage Association and other critics said Wednesday.

“New Yorkers do not want to be told what to drink,” attorney James Brandt told Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling.

The city Health Department's chief lawyer, Thomas Merrill, told the judge that the limit is reasonable and needed.

“The reason for the rule is that there is an obesity epidemic,” and scientific evidence show sugary drinks are playing a big role, he said.

“A product that contains empty calories and no nutritional value is being over-consumed.”

Opponents also are raising questions of racial fairness alongside other complaints as the novel restriction faces a court test.

The NAACP's New York state branch and the Hispanic Federation have joined beverage makers and sellers in trying to stop the rule from taking effect March 12. Critics are attacking what they call an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, while city officials and health experts defend it as a pioneering and proper move to fight obesity.

The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given that obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The groups say in court papers they're concerned about the discrepancy, but the soda rule will unduly harm minority businesses and “freedom of choice in low-income communities.”

The latest in a line of healthy eating initiatives during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, the beverage rule bars restaurants and other eateries from selling high-sugar drinks in cups or containers bigger than 16 ounces. Violations could bring $200 fines; the city doesn't plan to start imposing those until June.

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