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Intense Battle Over Banning Coke and Junk Sodas from Food Stamp Program and Taxing Them in DC

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “ Congress should ban sugary sodas from the $58 billion-a-year U.S. food stamp program as a step to combat the obesity crisis, the House Agriculture Committee was told on Thursday.

“Wellesley College professor and food expert Rob Paarlberg suggested the ban during a hearing to review the 2008 farm law, which includes food stamps as well as crop subsidies. Food stamps help low-income people buy food. One in eight Americans receives food stamps.”

Yesterday’s article stated that, “ ‘I would argue caloric soda should be made ineligible for purchase under SNAP, like tobacco and alcohol,’ said Paarlberg, using the new name for food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. He later said sugary sodas are ‘a huge part of the obesity problem.’

“Committee chairman Collin Peterson told reporters, ‘It clearly is something we need to look at.’

“‘ We need to look at what effect, if any, we’re having on the obesity situation. Is the SNAP program contributing to that?’ said Peterson. ‘ That’s the first question, before we talk anything about money.’”

( Note: To listen to extended comments on this issue by Dr. Paarlberg from yesterday’s hearing, just click here (MP3-5:02); also, an entire audio rebroadcast of yesterday’s hearing is available for replay or download here.)

Mr. Abbott noted that, “First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a 70-point plan on Tuesday to reduce childhood obesity rates within a generation. The report called for larger enrollment in public nutrition programs, putting healthier foods in school meals and encouraging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables.”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “ The White House plan for attacking childhood obesity ran into resistance today from a key player on Capitol Hill. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, said he doesn’t think that increasing the number of people on food stamps or subsidizing fruits and vegetables are solutions to obesity.

“The White House plan, released on Tuesday, called for expanding enrollment in food stamps and using the next farm bill to expand production of fruits and vegetables. The plan sets a target of increasing fruit and vegetable supplies 70 percent by 2020.

“‘ I do not believe the solution to obesity is spending more money on fruits and vegetables,’ the Minnesota Democrat told reporters during a break in a hearing on farm policy.”

Mr. Brasher explained that, “ The White House was not specific in how fruit and vegetable production should be subsidized. An Iowa State University economist, Bruce Babcock, warned Peterson’s committee against directly subsidizing farmers, saying that would cause growers’ prices to crash. It would be better, he said, to subsidize transportation or other costs necessary to get produce to markets where fresh produce is now hard to get.”

( Note: To listen to some of Dr. Babcock’s analysis on this issue, which was provided in a response to a question by Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper (D-Penn.), just click here MP3- 2:11.))

Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “[ Chairman] Peterson also said he does not understand why anti-hunger advocates keep saying there is a simultaneous problem of hunger and obesity.

Jean Kinsey, a University of Minnesota economics professor, replied that when people are hungry ‘they tend to eat what is available,’ and that those foods are usually cheap, high in fat, dense in calories and nutritionally poor. Kinsey said that the most frequent question she gets is ‘ Why doesn’t our government subsidize the production of fruits and vegetables like (or instead of) corn and soybeans?

“Peterson told the reporters, ‘I do not believe the solution to obesity is spending more money on fruits and vegetables. That might be part of the solution. I don’t know where we get the money to do that.’”

( Note: To listen to remarks on this issue by Chairman Peterson from yesterday’s hearing, just click here (MP3-5:27). As a side note, on the issue of farm payments, Chairman Peterson indicated in a prelude to his comments on nutrition issues that the 10% of farmers who are getting 60% of farm payments generate 80% of production. The fact that payments follow production makes sense, he noted.)

Mr. Hagstrom added that, “ Tied to that notion of eating more fruits and vegetables, Neil Hamilton of Drake University also disputed recent criticism of the Obama administration’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program as aimed at hobby farmers and affluent consumers. Hamilton called for continuation of the program, saying it helped create farmers markets where millions of Americans can exercise their preference to buy fresh food from local farmers whose earnings stay in the community.”

In a related article discussing a separate issue related to soda, Tim Craig reported in today’s Washington Post that, “ The beverage industry is mounting an expensive campaign to derail a D.C. Council proposal for a citywide soda tax, setting up a two-week showdown between some city grocers and health advocates over how best to curb childhood obesity rates.

“To pay for a council initiative requiring city schools to serve more fresh fruit and vegetables to students, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) has proposed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on bottled and canned soda that contains sugar. Diet soda would be exempt.”

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