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California health and food safety policies set stage for new trends in eating

California took the lead last week on a trio of health and food safety policies that could set the stage for new trends — and controversy — in healthy eating.

Cloned-food labeling
The California Senate and Assembly passed the first law in the U.S. requiring manufacturers or producers to clearly label any food intended for human consumption that contains products from a cloned animal or its progeny.

The legislation, SB 63 sponsored by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, also requires sellers of all cloned livestock to disclose that fact at the time of the sale.

Migden said the legislation is necessary now because the FDA is expected to approve adding cloned products into the food chain as early as this year — making the U.S. the first country in the world to allow products from cloned animals to be sold for consumption. The FDA approved a draft last December that meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs and goats are "as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals." "People have the right to know if food is organic, if it contains pesticides or growth-promoting hormones, or if it's from cloned or natural-bred animal," Migden said in a statement. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill.

The California Farm Bureau Federation has asked the governor to veto the bill, arguing, "It would act as a ban on the technology, and … provides no useful information to consumers."

But groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety and Yonkers, N.Y.-based Consumers Union are urging Schwarzenegger to sign it.

Rebecca Spector, West Coast director for CFS, called the bill "a critical step for protecting consumers from the risks of untested cloned foods. Animal clones should not be used for food until long-term studies show that this technology can be used safely and humanely."

Consumers Union released a poll in May showing that 89 percent of Americans said they want to see cloned food labeled and that 69 percent said they are concerned about cloned meat and dairy products in the food supply.

The Center for Food Safety released a report in February saying there is little scientific evidence for the safety of food from clones and arguing that studies reviewed by the FDA found abnormalities and defects in animal clones.

Menu labeling
The California Assembly passed a bill requiring fast-food outlets and chain restaurants with 15 or more locations to provide nutrition information on standard menu items. The bill, SB 120, requires that the number of calories be posted on menu boards and that the number of calories, grams of saturated fat, trans fats, sodium and carbohydrates be provided on printed menus.

Proponents — which include the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society — say the bill addresses growing health risks posed by obesity and argue that consumers have a right to know what a menu item contains before they order it.

Opponents, including the California Restaurant Association, say it is expensive and impractical, and are urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto it. New York City passed a similar measure in July, but it was struck down recently by a judge who ruled it conflicts with federal law.

Fast-food restaurant limits
In another bid to staunch growing obesity rates among children as well as adults, Los Angeles could join the ranks of cities looking to limit the growth of fast-food restaurants. The City Council is set to vote Sept. 18 on an ordinance that would impose up to a two-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles.

Some 46 percent of restaurants in the area are fast-food chains, compared with 12 percent on the west side, according to a survey by the Los Angeles Times.

The area, whose residents are largely lower-income and have higher obesity rates, has fewer restaurants overall and fewer grocery stores than other parts of the city, the newspaper reported.

The proposal is another in a series of measures aimed at addressing the link between the high-fat foods on fast-food menus and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes South Los Angeles, proposed the ordinance, saying the higher obesity rates in the area have made it a public health issue and that residents should have healthier choices.

Critics see it as an attempt by government to control social behavior.

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