In case you missed it, there’s been a minor food spat going on at Crikey. When the nutritionist, Dr Rosemary Stanton, called for foods to be taxed according to their carbon footprint, this, predictably enough, got right up the noses of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, as well as their friends at the Institute of Public Affairs.
But the real food war to watch is underway in the US, and you can read more about it in this investigation, “The Food Lobby’s War on a Soda Tax”, jointly undertaken by the Centre for Public Integrity and the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.
The investigation reports that:
Washington lobbyists have been enjoying a multi-million-dollar sugar rush from the food industry. Soft drink makers, supermarket companies, agriculture and the fast-food business have poured millions into campaigning against what they fear could be a burgeoning national movement to raise money for health care reform by taxing sweetened beverages.
During the first nine months of 2009, the industry groups stepped up their lobbying in Congress. They have spent more than $24 million on the issue of a national excise tax on sweetened beverages and on other legislative and regulatory issues, according to an examination of lobbying reports filed with the Senate Office of Public Records. The review shows that 21 companies and organizations reported that they lobbied specifically on the proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages — which among other things would include sodas, juice drinks and chocolate milk.
About $5 million of the money was spent on a national advertising campaign aimed at Capitol Hill lawmakers and promoting a newly formed coalition called Americans Against Food Taxes. The group bills itself on its website as a coalition of “responsible individuals, financially-strapped families, [and] small and large businesses” but its 400-plus membership list is dominated by industry heavyweights such as Burger King Corporation, Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Domino’s Pizza.
The heavyweight lobbying and spending is not so surprising, given what’s at stake for the industry.
In California yesterday, legislators were hearing arguments in favour of a soft drinks tax, including from Professor Kelly Brownell, who was the lead author on this landmark article in the New England Journal of Medicine arguing that there are “compelling” reasons for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages.
According to this LA Times report, one senator told the hearing that he wants “to end the Pepsi Generation,” and compared the marketing of soft drinks to cigarette marketing.
Brownell told the hearing that the landscape for the soda industry is not unlike what it was for the tobacco industry when governments began to increase taxes on cigarettes as a strategy to get people to stop smoking.
Meanwhile, Kellogg has announced that it will withdraw the IMMUNITY claim on Cocoa and other Rice Krispies cereals. The withdrawal follows this report in USA Today, citing concerns held by the San Francisco city attorney and prominent public health experts (including Kelly Brownell).
Public health nutritionist Professor Marion Nestle wasn’t impressed by the FDA’s lack of action on the immunity claim, and said the city and state attorneys were doing the FDA’s job. She also blogged “And let’s hear cheers for the power of the press”.
On related matters, the SMH is reporting on a project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists examining the climate lobby in eight countries including the US, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, China, Belgium and Brazil. The conclusion is that “big greenhouse polluting companies around the world, employing thousands of lobbyists, are exerting heavy pressure on governments to weaken climate change laws at home and slow progress on an international climate agreement in Copenhagen”.
It all starts to sound so familiar doesn’t it….