Keith Nunes

KANSAS CITY — The labeling of genetically modified ingredients, cage-free eggs and taxes on sugary beverages all have one thing in common — each issue rose to national prominence through successful legislative initiatives at the local level. Groups are using the local legislative process to try to effect change nationwide, and they have been successful in several high-profile instances. These initiatives, and future legislative efforts, stand to have a significant impact throughout the food and beverage supply chain and on manufacturers.

One successful effort involved the labeling of food and beverages containing genetically modified ingredients. When Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed H.B. 112 into law in May 2014 and made Vermont the first state to require the labeling of products containing genetically-modified ingredients it set off a chain reaction that involved legal action and eventually reached the halls of Congress and the White House. Only the interventions of Congress and President Obama to bring the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard to reality on July 29 prevented the implementation of the Vermont law and piecemeal labeling regulations.

A similar situation unfolded when voters in California passed Proposition 2 in 2008. That particular piece of legislation required that egg-laying hens raised in the state had to live in conditions where they could stand, lie down, turn around and extend their wings. In 2010, California lawmakers passed AB 1437 that required all shell eggs sold in the state be produced in compliance with Proposition 2.

The passage of AB 1437 sent shockwaves throughout the egg industry. In order for processors throughout the country to continue to sell their products into one of the nation’s largest markets they would need to make significant capital investments to bring their operations into compliance with the state’s law.

The law’s passage also factored in decisions by retailers and food service operators such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and McDonald’s Corp., among others, to announce plans to shift their egg supplies to cage free in the near future. These announcements also are bringing significant changes to the industry.

Most recently, four U.S. cities, San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., passed beverage taxes in November, joining Berkeley, Calif., which passed a tax in 2014, and the Navajo Nation. The Board of Cook County, Ill., and the City Council of Philadelphia both approved beverage taxes earlier this year to become effective in 2017 that are aimed at raising tax revenue.

The passage of the legislation may have set the tone for what the beverage industry is likely to encounter nationwide. Successful campaigns this fall are now viewed as models for other municipalities, and beverage makers may expect more such initiatives in the future.

The laws purportedly are designed to raise prices on sugary beverages and prompt consumers to make healthier beverage choices to help reduce the incidence of obesity and the many chronic diseases associated with the condition. Yet it remains unclear if such efforts will have the desired effect.

Beyond taxing sweeteners, it is clear groups will continue to use the local legislative process to effect change on a national scale. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts may be where the next battles will be waged. This past November, voters there passed Proposition 3, which bans farmers from confining breeding pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens in cages that prevent the animals from lying down, standing or fully extending their limbs.

The campaign was strongly supported by the Humane Society of the United States, and the ballot legislation is considered the most far-reaching policy in the nation. It may be considered a model for future local campaigns that may one day carry national significance.