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Tougher standards for junk food advertising may be on the way in New York state.

Members of the state Senate Agriculture Committee recently passed S.7487B, 6-3, with state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, voting against. Borrello said the intent of the bill is sound, but questioned a clause allowing any person who thinks they have suffered damages to be allowed to sue in state or federal court.

“I understand the intent of this and I appreciate the intent of it,” Borrello said. “My concern is this includes a private right of action which I am just not a fan of. I think that’s kind of an under-the-radar gift to special interests to do so.”

S.7487 is sponsored by Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn. It would amend the state Agriculture and Markets Law to require the claims made in an advertisement, the failure to reveal material facts and the target of an advertisement are all considered when determining whether an advertisement is false or misleading. In addition, it provides special consideration when the target audience of an advertisement is children.

The state Agriculture and Markets Department and the state Health Department would be required to produce a report to the state Legislature showing which foods are bad for children according to generally accepted nutritional standards. Myrie’s proposal also gives additional authority to regulators to target specific food related industries such as ultra-processed foods for the implementation of a childhood obesity prevention program.

“I take your point, Sen. Borrello, on the private right of action,” Myrie said. “But this is not just in this bill but used in several others as a motivating factor for folks to do the right thing. Hopefully it doesn’t have to come to litigation. That’s my goal with this legislation. And I also want to say generally the intent of this bill to prevent corporations that are spending billions of dollars targeting our children with unhealthy food and overconsumption is one I think we all agree with. I think it’s just the destination — how do we get there?”

Companion legislation (A.8583) has not made it out of the Assembly Agriculture Committee this session. Myrie said there have been concerns raised by the New York Farm Bureau about some New York-produced items being labeled unhealthy. Myrie said his intent is to open markets and opportunities for state farms to have children eating healthier food produced by state farms rather than the items they see on television advertising.

Borrello said he would also like to see the state tackle other truth in advertising matters involving the dairy industry — namely, what is and isn’t considered milk.

“I will also make a comment that has nothing to do with your bill, but talking about truth in advertising, which is what you’re talking about here,” Borrello said. “I would love it if we had the power here in New York state to eliminate calling things like almond milk actually milk instead of things that come from a mammal. As a side note, I wish that was within our power, I know that’s a federal power, but that’s certainly a truth in advertising issue as far as I’m concerned.”

Committee members also passed S.8973, which would allow a dog that is not dangerous to be returned to the owner on the dog’s license. Current state law requires stray dogs be taken to the local animal shelter. A valid license would be required for dogs to be returned to their owner. Unlicensed animals would still be taken to the nearest shelter.

“It was surprising to me that this was not the law to begin with,” said Assemblywoman Michelle Hinchey, D-Kingston. “I’m really happy we’re able to do this now. If a dog is found or you lose your dog and someone finds it, right now it has to be returned to a shelter, not to the owner. So we obviously want to make that as easy as possible for people to be reunited with their beloved pet.”

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