SF Fast-food toy ban gets supervisors' first OK
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
November 2, 2010
San Francisco -- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval Tuesday to banning toy giveaways in Happy Meals and similar fast-food offerings aimed at kids unless they have reduced sodium, fat and sugar content and include fruit and vegetables.
The legislation, which sponsors said is intended to promote healthy eating and help combat childhood obesity, was passed on an 8-3 vote - the bare minimum needed to overturn Mayor Gavin Newsom's promised veto.
The board is scheduled to take a final vote next week. If it goes on the books, the restrictions wouldn't go into effect until December 2011.
"This is a tremendous victory for our children's health," said Supervisor Eric Mar, chief sponsor of the legislation.
Siding with him were Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, David Chiu, Chris Daly, Bevan Dufty, Sophie Maxwell and Ross Mirkarimi. Opposed were Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd.
McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant chain, took the lead in fighting the proposal.
"Somehow the San Francisco Board of Supervisors just took the happy out of Happy Meals," said Scott Rodrick, who owns 10 McDonald's franchises in the city. "It would be an understatement to say how disappointed I am with this legislation."
He said the restrictions could hurt business and cost jobs if customers cross the San Francisco border for a traditional Happy Meal experience. He and other restaurant industry representatives said parents - not lawmakers - should decide what their children eat.
Mar said that right wouldn't be taken away. Toys, he noted, still would be allowed in meals that meet the healthier nutritional guidelines.
"It's not a ban; it's an incentive," Mar said.
Under the proposed ordinance, restaurants may give away a free toy or other incentive item only if the meal contains less than 600 calories, has less than 640 milligrams of sodium and if less than 35 percent of the calories are derived from fat (less than 10 percent from saturated fat), except for fat contained in nuts, seeds, eggs or low-fat cheese.
In beverages, less than 35 percent of the total calories can come from fat, and less than 10 percent from added sweeteners.
In addition, the meals must contain a half-cup or more of fruit and three-quarters of a cup or more of vegetables. A breakfast meal must contain at least a half-cup of fruit or vegetables.
Mar, who had the backing of the city's public health officials, modeled his proposal after a first-in-the-nation law in Santa Clara County adopted earlier this year that only applies to a handful of restaurants in the county's unincorporated areas. San Francisco's restrictions would affect dozens of fast-food establishments.
Dufty, the swing vote Mar needed to assure a veto-proof majority, said the powerful lure of toys that come with kids meals - and the marketing campaigns that accompany them - puts parents who may want to steer their children toward healthier food choices at fast-food restaurants at a distinct disadvantage.
He pointed to a 2006 survey by the Federal Trade Commission that found that 10 fast-food chains spent $360 million to purchase toys to distribute with the more than 1.2 billion children's meals sold that year.
"I want to encourage these major stakeholders to act now. I think we can take a bold move here and say, you know what, you really need to think about the fact that you can market whole wheat products, you can market carrots," Dufty said.
"If you have to put a Shrek doll with a package of carrots," Dufty added, "maybe that's what you have to do, but there hasn't been a real incentive for this industry to do that, and I think that this legislation in a small appropriate way is a step to say you need to do things differently."
E-mail Rachel Gordon at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle