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Berkeley Implements Nation’s First Healthy Foods Checkout Line Ordinance

After almost six months, Berkeley has finally enacted the nation’s first checkout ordinance, which requires stores to place healthier items in the checkout aisle. Initially passed in September of 2020, the regulations apply to stores larger than 2,500 square feet and only permit food items with less than five grams of added sugar or two hundred milligrams of sodium. Beverages must contain no added sugars or artificial sweeteners.

Although the regulations might worry some larger business owners, Jennifer Freese of Franklin Bros. Market isn’t concerned. 

“I am for it. I feel like anything that store owners can do to encourage people to make healthy food choices is good, and I think this new policy supports store owners,” said Freese. For her, the local tax on sweets and beverages has been helpful when explaining to customers why unhealthy products are more expensive. “I try to price my products so you can see that you’re paying the extra tax because this beverage has added sugar,” Freese explained. 

Youza Pak, who owns Yasai Produce Market, agreed. “We don’t carry too much here, but I do pay attention to what we bring in because we want to keep the public healthy and keep the community healthy. I think it’s a great idea because [the checkout aisle] is where people make impulse purchases, and there definitely should be more healthier options,” said Pak.

The regulation, enacted on March 1, affects 25 retailers in Berkeley, including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and CVS. The ordinance will allow foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, dairy, and whole grain, but will limit the range of sugary items present in checkout areas.

Although the ordinance is praised by many, some nutritionists disagree with the law. “In my opinion, sugar can come from different resources, even healthy resources,” said Chen Asher, a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals and a Board Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. “If [the city] wants to make any changes, they can supply real food to real people to get better, and not rely on processed food whatsoever.”

This is not Berkeley’s first landmark health ruling. Berkeley also passed the nation’s first soda tax in 2014, which directly influenced a noticeable decline in soda consumption, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

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