S.F. to McDonald's: No Happy Meal toys in the city unless certain nutritional guidelines met

Happy Meal outside McDonald'sSan Francisco's Board of Supervisors today passed a controversial proposal that would ban toys and other marketing incentives from children's food -- like McDonald's Happy Meals -- unless those meals met the city's nutritional guidelines that limit fat, salt, sugar and calorie content.

In a statement before the vote, city Supervisor Bevan Dufty said lawmakers have a duty to provide nutritional food and make restaurants and companies more conscious of nutrition in their menus.

"If you have to put a Shrek doll with a pack of carrots, that is what you have to do," he said. Dufty's vote was widely considered to be the swing vote that safeguards against a promised veto by Mayor Gavin Newsom who is opposed to the measure.

Before the 8-3 vote, the bill's primary proponent Supervisor Eric Mar called it was "a modest ordinance that's really getting the fast food and restaurant industry to meet basic nutritional standards." The legislation will go into effect Dec. 1, 2011 and will be phased in throughout the upcoming year.

To be allowed to offer an incentive -- like a toy, game or ticket -- with a children's meal, a restaurant:
  • Must make sure the meal had no more than 600 calories and no more than 640 milligrams of salt.
  • Fat makes up 35% or less of the total calories. Exceptions are egg, low-fat or reduced-fat cheese, peanut butter and nuts. Saturated fat can only comprise 10% of the total calories and trans fat only 0.5 grams.
  • Must provide a half cup of fruits and a half cup of vegetables in each meal. Breakfast meals must have a half cup of fruit.
Incentives are also banned from being offered with the separate purchase of a beverage if the drink has more than 35% of its calories from fat or has 10% of its calories from sugar, according to the bill. The supervisors dropped part of the bill that would require each meal to offer whole grains.

In the months leading up to its passage, the bill has faced vehement opposition from the restaurant industry -- including McDonald's -- and other groups. In an opinion piece published last week in the San Francisco Examiner, Karen Wells, McDonald's vice president of nutrition and menu strategy, questioned if the bill would even have an impact because most children eat meals at home, not in a restaurant.

"Most parents who bring their kids to McDonald's say they only buy two to three Happy Meals per month, out of nearly 90 meals each month," she said in the article.

In a statement sent to Consumer Ally after the proposal passed, McDonald's USA spokeswoman Danya Proud said: "We are extremely disappointed with today's decision. It's not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for. Public opinion continues to be overwhelmingly against this misguided legislation. Parents tell us it's their right and responsibility -- not the government's -- to make their own decisions and to choose what's right for their children."

"Credible and objective research demonstrates this proposal is unrealistic based on data showing that most children rarely eat a meal as detailed by the proposed ordinance," Proud said. "We are extremely proud of our Happy Meals which give our youngest guests wholesome food and toys of the highest quality. Getting a toy with a kid's meal is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald's."

San Francisco becomes the second California locale to put such restrictions in place. Santa Clara County enacted a similar measure in April. Other cities around the country are also starting to examine regulating nutrition, including New York City, which is considering banning food stamp users from buying soda with the food benefits.
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