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Berkeley’s Soda Tax: Turning the Tides on Big Soda

victory yes on d cover photoIn case you missed it last week (and in the Bay Area, you would have to be living under a rock to miss it), Berkeley’s soda tax passed (Measure D) with a whopping 75% of the vote. A HUGE victory for the public health world, and helping the City of Berkeley continue to pursue a healthier community. Thanks to the Berkeley vs. Big Soda team for being an amazing group of colleagues to work with.

I wrote two blog posts – a before and after, if you will – for JSI’s blog, The Pump. Read them at the links below:

“In California, a tax on sugary drinks is the first step in the fight against obesity” (11/3/14)

“Berkeley Passes the Nation’s First Soda Tax” (11/5/14)

Thanks for reading!

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Upcoming Event: Berkeley Soda Series

sodaseriesIn an effort to raise awareness about the health and environmental impacts of soda and other sugary drinks, the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition and several other local organizations are hosting Soda: The Series from September 4th through October 9th. The series of community events will include Berkeley leaders alongside speakers such as Dr. Robert Lustig (a renowned UCSF researcher on sugar), Raj Patel (award-winning writer, activist, and academic), and Anna Lappé (author and director of Small Planet Institute) discussing the science of sugary drinks, tactics of the soda industry, and disease prevention efforts. These events take place in the run-up to the November election, when Berkeley will vote on Measure D, a tax on sugary drinks.

Visit SodaSeries.org for more information and to download the flyer!

 

Fighting Big Soda in Berkeley

My blogging always falls off the radar when I’m busy. But, this time, I have a good reason – I’m volunteering with the Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign to pass a tax on sugary drinks in the city of Berkeley, California.

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Sugary drinks – like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, and even juices with added sugar – have repeatedly been linked to increase risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. Yet, the beverage industry (aka Big Soda) relentlessly markets these unhealthy drinks despite their harmful health effects. Deceptive marketing most often targets kids and communities of color. As a public health advocate, I truly believe that we need strong policy approaches to address the chronic diseases caused by sugary drinks – educational campaigns on the topic just aren’t sufficient to reduce soda consumption when people are inundated with Big Soda’s targeted marketing.

Berkeley is proposing a tax on distributors of sugary drinks to tell Big Soda that we won’t let them profit at the expense of our community’s health any longer. Revenue from the tax could be used to fund community- and school-based obesity prevention programs. We also hope that by raising awareness of the issue of soda-related diseases, Berkeley’s families and residents will rethink their beverage choices and sugary drink consumption will decline over time.

I encourage you to visit our website and follow us on social media to learn what we’re all about:

If you happen to be a local reader, please volunteer and donate. The decision on the ballot measure will be finalized at the Berkeley City Council meeting on June 24th. Let’s make Berkeley the first city in the U.S. to pass a tax on sugary drinks!

UPDATE: As of July 1st, the Berkeley soda tax (now known as Measure D) is officially on the November ballot!

July 1 tweet

Food Policy News: Week of March 27

  • The USDA recently conducted a study of SNAP-based incentive programs, those which increase the value of SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets through matching funds or another mechanism. The goal of the Farmers Market Incentive Provider Study was to explore who is funding, operating, and supporting these programs in communities across the US. Wholesome Wave provided a nice summary of the findings, largely from a series of interviews, demonstrating that these programs rely heavily on steady funding streams and partnerships with community organizations to sustain them. [USDA Economic Research Service]
  • Early evidence suggests that Mexicans are drinking less sugary drinks in the wake of the country’s recent soda tax, which took effect in January. In response to the peso-per-liter tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, beverage companies like Coca-Cola have passed the tax burden down to consumers by raising prices. Beverage sales are predicted to fall by 6-7 percent as a result. [Bloomberg]
  • A recent community poll in Berkeley, CA demonstrated community support for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – 66% of voters surveyed would support a penny-per-ounce tax if revenue went into the city’s general fund, and 64% would support a tax if the funding were devoted to nutrition and other community programs. The UC Berkeley student government also recently passed a tax on sugary drinks on campus to raise revenue for the student health center. [Berkeleyside]
  • The country of Denmark was able to eliminate salmonella in raw chicken by taking an upstream approach to food safety and adopting a “zero tolerance” policy. Human illness from salmonella is a huge problem in the United States, but taking a similar approach to Denmark isn’t feasible given the sheer size of our poultry industry (we processed 8.5 billion chickens in 2013), and the fractured nature of our food safety and inspection systems. A food safety overhaul in the U.S. is long overdue – but, in the meantime, I’d steer clear of chicken. [Food Safety News, Food Politics]

Food Policy News: Week of March 14th, 2014

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  • The American Beverage Association’s anti-soda-tax coalition in San Francisco, the Coalition for an Affordable City, has started their ridiculous marketing campaign leading up to the November vote, playing off of increasing concerns over affordability of living in the city. They argue that SFers already pay so much to live in the city, that another “big” tax – which is only 2 cents per ounce, hardly “big” in my opinion – places an unfair burden on consumers.  I was pleased to see that their Twitter feed, @NoSFBevTax, is not getting much of a positive response. [48 Hills]
  • Many states are using a clever “loophole” to avoid enduring cuts to SNAP in the most recent Farm Bill, angering Republicans. States are opting into the “heat and eat” program, which provides enhanced access to SNAP benefits through fuel assistance programs. See how each state will be affected by the cuts in this interactive map. [NPR]
  • The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which handles private sector donations to Let’s Move!, released its 2013 Annual Report detailing $330 million in partner commitments. Commitments include things like increasing access to grocery stores in under-served areas and reducing calorie and sugar content in food products. [Obama Foodorama]
  • On March 4th, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a ban on the sale of bottled water (single-use bottles, or anything smaller than 21 ounces) on city property in an effort to reduce plastic waste. The ban also encourages installation of more water fountains. The ordinance still needs mayoral approval, but would be effective October 1st if passed. [SFGate]

Food Policy in the new year – 2014!

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  • After two years of struggle, a compromise Farm Bill passed in the House last week. Some of the major changes include $8 billion in cuts to SNAP Benefits, elimination of direct payments to farmers, and a bump in crop insurance payments, among other things. The bill also includes incentives for nutrition incentive programs and farmers’ market programs. [NY Times, NPR]

Update as of Tuesday 2/4/14 at 12:04pm PT – The Farm Bill just passed 68-32 in the Senate. 

  • San Francisco is preparing to put a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on the ballot in November. Supporters held a kickoff meeting in SF this past weekend as they prepare for what will likely be a tough battle against the beverage industry, aka Big Soda. The finalized language for the ballot measure is expected to be released on Tuesday and will impose the tax on distributors (as opposed to a sales tax). On the other side of the Bay, the city of Berkeley is also considering a similar tax that will be a penny-per-ounce on sugary drinks. [SF Examiner]
  • The Navajo Nation recently passed a 2% sales tax on junk food, including sugary drinks. Navajos, as well as other Native Americans, are at particularly high risk for diabetes and obesity. The tax affects sales of junk foods on their reservation, which spans a large area across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Importantly, the legislation also eliminates the sales tax for healthy foods as a way to incentivize purchases. [Food Safety News]
  • Drought conditions in California are hitting fruit & vegetable farmers hard. This marks the third dry year in a row, and the state has declared it will not be allocating water to farmers during the drought emergency. The drought conditions have been compounded by the lack of a Farm Bill, which would normally provide funds for disaster relief. [SFGate]

*image via Newseum

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