The War Against Soft Drinks

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Americans consume more than 10 million short tons — 1 short ton equals 2,000 pounds — of sugar a year. And that’s not counting high-fructose corn syrup — a Japanese invention converting cornstarch into 55% fructose and 45% glucose. High-fructose corn syrup extends the shelf life of processed foods, is cheaper than sugar, and is used in an array of foods and beverages such as soft drinks, yogurt, bread, cookies, salad dressing, tomato soup, and and ketchup.

Contrast 10 million short tons to the yearly national average of sugar consumed in 1915, at roughly 15 to 20 pounds per person.

And Bloomberg reports the U.S.D.A is raising its raw-sugar import quota by 300,000 short tons, the second increase this year, to relieve a shortage of the domestic sweetener used by companies including PepsiCo Inc. The quota boost, however, is a result U.S. sugar farmers blocking efforts to increase imports to eliminate price competition.

Restrictions on imports have caused American users to pay much more than the rest of the world for sugar. That gap recently blew out to its widest in a decade, says Bloomberg.

Sugar Linked to Obesity and Diabetes

Most everyone knows by now that the regular consumption of refined sugar and corn syrup has been linked to a host of illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Soft drinks are especially insidious because consumers don’t pay particular attention to the cumulative amount of sugar in each can or bottle every time they “pause and refresh”.

In fact, as Dr. Brownell in The New England Journal of Medicine points out: Americans consume about 250 to 300 more calories daily today than they did several decades ago, and nearly half this increase is accounted for by consumption of sugared beverages.

Brownell also notes that sugared beverages are marketed extensively to children and adolescents, and in the mid-1990s, children’s intake of sugared beverages surpassed that of milk. And now numerous studies have linked soda to obesity.

One UCLA study released last year found adults who drink at least one soft drink a day are 27 percent more likely to be obese than those who don’t. The study also found that 41 percent of children and 62 percent of teens drink at least one soda daily.

Powerful Beverage Industry Lobbyists

That’s why last spring the Senate Finance Committee eyed levying a federal excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

But as McClatchy’s Joey Peters reports, “beverage industry lobbyists have quashed efforts to pass a soda tax this year in Mississippi, New Mexico and New York state. In Washington state, says Peters, an industry-funded initiative to repeal the new soda tax appears certified to go before voters on this November’s ballot. Its sponsors turned in 395,000 signatures, much higher than the 240,000 required.”

The American Beverage Association (ABA) spent more than $1 million to gather enough signatures to get the initiative on the Washington state ballot. Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for the coalition of children’s health groups who supports the soda tax, expects the industry to spend up to $10 million leading into the election.

After Maine passed a soda tax two years ago, the soft-drink industry killed the tax last November with a $4 million ballot initiative persuading voters to reject the tax; revenues had been slated to go toward a state health care program.

According to the New York Times: Final lobbyist filings are not yet in, but estimates of the amount spent … range from $2.5 million…to $5 million, by the beverage industry’s count. The American Beverage Association spent $9.4 million in the first four months of the year to oppose New York’s soda tax, according to a search of public lobbying records by the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance. Most of the money was spent on advertising, media and strategy.

In every state where a soda-tax plan has been proposed, the beverage lobby has funded a campaign in opposition. Now some people, like the Mayor of San Francisco, are taking matters in to their own hands.

San Francisco Mayor Bans Soda in Vending Machines

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, Coke, Pepsi and Fanta Orange are no longer allowed in vending machines on city property under an executive order from Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom’s directive bars calorically sweetened beverages from vending machines on city property, including non-diet sodas, sports drinks and artificially sweetened water. Juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners. Diet sodas can be no more than 25 percent of the items offered.

There should be “ample choices” of water, “soy milk, rice milk and other similar dairy or non dairy milk,” says the directive.

But Health Risks Not Restricted to Soda

The irony is, of course, that all commercial beverages on the market pose an intrinsic health risk in one form or another — even bottled water. Regarding soy milk, virtually all the soy we consume has been genetically modified, and diet soda contains a host of toxic chemicals like artificial sweeteners, Sodium cyclamate, and sodium and phosphoric acid.

And a “potentially deadly toxin is being absorbed into bottled mineral water from their plastic containers — the longer the water is stored, the levels of poison increase, research reveals.”

GM Soy studies disclosed that third generation hamsters fed genetically modified soy were unable to produce offspring.

Roughly eighty-five percent of the soy gown in the US is Roundup Ready, genetically modified soy. And soy derivatives, including oil, flour and lecithin, are found in the majority of processed foods sold in the US, including the soy milk Mayor Newsom wants you to drink.

Will Raising Soda Price Lower Consumption?

There is evidence that raising the price of soda would lower consumption. Harvard researchers published a paper in the American Journal of Public Health showing that raising the price of sodas in a hospital cafeteria discourage sales.

And according to a new analysis by USDA economists, a tax-induced 20-percent price increase on caloric sweetened beverages could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day, or 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year, for adults and an average of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for children.

Where Do We Draw The Line?

But where do we as a society draw the line? Do we really want a Nanny State? Why only tax and/or restrict sugary soda, and not GM soy, GM corn, GM fruit, diet soda, or most processed foods in general?

“Singling out beverages in this whole equation of how to fight obesity is not going to be the answer,” said Bob Achermann, executive director of the California/Nevada Soft Drink Association.

Granted, Achermann has a vested interest, but why single out one beverage at the exclusion of the hundreds of other products that contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup? Maybe because soda is the easiest to tax.

“This is all about choice. There is probably nothing more personal than what you drink and eat,” said Achermann.

Indeed. And our choices appear be narrowing: New York City’s Education Department recently banned bake sales. The change is part of what they call a new “wellness policy”.

While New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has decided to dictate how much salt food manufacturers and restaurant owners can use when they cook. The Mayor’s request was replete with elaborate guidelines for different products. Maybe the Mayor will be issuing candy permits this Halloween.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper


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