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City makes healthful food a requirement for building permits

New ordinance in Watsonville, Calif., aimed at reducing obesity

The city council in Watsonville, Calif., approved an ordinance Tuesday that would require restaurants to offer healthful options on their menus in order to obtain a building permit.

Dubbed the Healthy Eating Options ordinance, the measure was proposed by a Healthy Food Task Force created in 2008 to reduce disease and obesity in the city, which is about 95 miles south of San Francisco in the Monterey Bay area of Santa Cruz County.

Under the plan, which the council approved with a 6-1 vote, restaurants seeking permits to build or renovate must obtain a certain number of points by meeting nutrition criteria on a checklist. The list includes offering at least four choices of fruits or vegetables prepared in a low-fat way; offering at least one fat-free or low-fat salad dressing; or offering at least one low-fat vegetarian dish with less than 500 calories.

Restaurants must earn at least six points to obtain a building permit. Earning nine points gives the restaurant an award certificate, and for 13 points they win a Golden Carrot Award. Recipients of the Golden Carrot will be promoted on the city’s cable channel for two months and in high school newsletters.

Daniel Conway, director of public affairs for the California Restaurant Association, described the measure as an “unnecessary burden” on restaurants that he found deeply troubling.

He said council members described the ordinance as something most restaurants would have no trouble complying with, since they offer many of the options already.

“They want this to encourage healthy choices, and they seem to indicate a need for that. On the other hand, they’re saying every restaurant will get enough points,” said Conway. “If everyone’s complying already, than what’s the point of this law?”

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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