On Friday, vendors running booths at the county’s flagship fireworks event will have to comply with new regulations on their food and drink offerings for the first time since Howard County Executive Ken Ulman passed an executive order to ban sugary drinks and restrict other junk food in county buildings and at county-sponsored events.
While Ulman and health advocates have touted the regulations — the first and only of their kind in the state — as an important step in the fight against obesity, some vendors have balked at what they consider unnecessarily restrictive rules.
The executive order, signed into law on Dec. 11, 2012, effectively bans non-diet sodas at county-sponsored events and limits the percentage of high-calorie packaged snacks that vendors can offer.
According to the regulations, 50 percent of packaged food offered at county events must contain 200 calories or less per portion. Non-diet cold drinks must contain 40 calories or less, and diet drinks may only contain five calories and constitute only 33 percent of a vendor’s beverage offerings.
The regulations apply to county events , except for Wine in the Woods, and buildings (including vending machines.)
Here’s what vendors had to say:
“I was furious when I first read this order because the bottom line is people have a choice of what they feed themselves,” said Beth Barnes, who has operated a kettle corn stand at Lakefront Fourth of July celebrations for nearly a decade. “[The regulations are] a violation of a person’s freedom, their right to choose.”
“We work when everybody else plays, so we have to provide products that people want to have while they’re playing,” said Douglas Henley, who owns Convenience Catering and Concessions and will be flipping hot dogs and hamburgers at his Lakefront booth on the fourth.
The executive order doesn’t place any restrictions on prepared foods like funnel cake, ice cream and Henley’s burgers.
However, he and Barnes said, some customers are just looking for a cold drink.
“If it’s hot, the soda and stuff goes like wildfire,” Henley said.
Republican County Councilman Greg Fox has filed legislation that would eliminate the rules and the regional beverage association opposes them. However, David Nitkin, the county’s communications director claims the rules don’t “restrict freedoms” (the Sun’s paraphrase) because: “People have freedom to bring the soft drink of their choice.”
That’s fine for those attending but it says nothing about the freedom of the business owners. Although they do have the freedom not to participate and limit the options of those attending. Then again, that is probably what the government’s intent is.
County Executive Ken Ulman, the “Michael Bloomberg of Maryland” who came up with this idea, is the Democratic nominee for Maryland Lt. Governor (on the ticket with Anthony Brown) in November.
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