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In a victory for consumers, legislation that sets calcium levels for milk has passed its first hurdle.

Senate Bill 2164 was approved Wednesday by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, introduced by Senators Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey) and Joseph Dunn (D-Santa Ana), sets calcium requirements in accordance with standards set for a federally mandated nutrition program.

It was introduced in response to the findings of nutrition experts who have determined that the calcium content of most California milk is essentially the same as the calcium content of milk processed to federal composition standards.

California law currently prohibits the sale of milk meeting federal standards. The ban, which protects California's dairy industry from competition, is one of the reasons milk prices in California are among the highest in the nation.

"Senators Bowen and Dunn have called the dairy industry's bluff," said Audrie Krause, executive director of the consumer coalition Mad About Milk. "If the industry really cared about nutrition, they would be supporting SB 2164."

Despite the dairy industry's claims, state law doesn't specify how much calcium is required in milk. Nutrition experts have determined that nearly 90 percent of the milk sold in California has essentially the same amount of calcium as the less expensive milk sold in other states.

UCLA nutrition expert Dr. Gail G. Harrison, who testified at Wednesday's hearing, said she hasn't found any direct evidence to support the dairy industry's claim that California milk contains more calcium.

SB 2164 expands the choice of milk products eligible for purchase by Californians participating in the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program by specifying exactly how much calcium is required in the milk. Current law doesn't do this; it merely specifies the percentage of fats and solids required in milk.

More information on Mad About Milk is available at www.madaboutmilk.org.

Coalition members include Anderson Dairy Inc., Aztex Dairy Inc., Bashas', California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL), City of Los Angeles Council on Aging, Colfax Market, Congress of California Seniors, Consumers Coalition, Consumers First, The Country Store, The Customer Company, East Los Angeles Health Task Force, El Regalo de Michaoacan, Friday Breakfast Club (Long Beach), Gray Panthers of Berkeley, Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego, San Fernando Valley, Santa Barbara, and Southern Alameda County, D. Kuiper Dairy, Libertarian Party of California, Orange County Taxfighters Inc., Ponderosa Dairy, REVOLT (Responsible Voters for Lower Taxes), Rockview Dairies Inc., Seniors for Action, Shamrock Foods, Shasta County Taxpayers Association, Councilman George Stevens (San Diego), Tenants, Seniors, and Labor (San Francisco), Chrysler Retirees Local 230 of United Auto Workers, The United Dairymen of Arizona, United Organizations of Taxpayers, and Waste Watchers.

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