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Berkeley poised to ban junk food in store checkout aisles

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Parents in Berkeley, California, may soon be spared having their kids at eyeball level with candy and other sugar-laden temptations waiting in the checkout lines of the city's larger retail stores.

That's if an ordinance clears the Berkeley City Council a second time next month. Council members unanimously approved a measure this week that would prohibit grocery stores bigger than 2,500 square feet from displaying junk food and other unhealthy items in checkout aisles. It would apply to 25 retailers in Berkeley, including CVS, Safeway, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

Any affected retailer could continue selling chips, candy bars, soda and other food viewed as empty calories elsewhere in their stores.

"It's not a ban, it's a nudge," said Kate Harrison, a council member who co-authored the ordinance, according to local media reports.

The new policy drew applause from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which lobbied for the ordinance and called it the nation's "first healthy checkout policy."

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"This is a massive win for consumers and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, when grocery stores are more integral to our well-being than ever before," CSPI senior policy associate Ashley Hickson said in a statement. "By offering healthier options at checkout, stores will contribute to advancing public health and level the playing field for consumers during an already stressful time."

If the measure passes muster at the council's October 13 meeting, it would be adopted and take effect in March 2021. Enforcement would not begin until the start of 2022. 

Berkeley also passed a soda tax in 2014.

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