No government money to criticize soda, says freshman lawmaker


Outraged that federal stimulus money has been used for local advertisements targeting soda as unhealthy, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., has introduced the Protecting Foods and Beverages from Government Attack Act, which would make it illegal to use federal funds to criticize a legal food or beverage product.

A member of the House Agriculture Committee, the freshman has collected more than $24,000 from the food and beverage industry, including $4,500 from Steve Ennis, the recently deceased CEO of a local Coca Cola bottling company. Susan Hirschmann, a Coca Cola lobbyist who served as chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was listed as a host for a Washington fundraiser in July. 

One of the ads that reportedly upset the congressman: This one trumpeting "Your kids just ate 26 packs of sugar," showing packets of sugar pouring into a soda cup. It was sponsored by the New York City Department of Health as part of an anti-obesity campaign.

"When I see stimulus money being used to attack American companies and American workers, I think it would be very unsettling to be working on the assembly line of Coca Cola, look up and see an ad that’s trying to hurt the very job that you make your wages and pay taxes from,"  DesJarlais, who is a physician, told the Los Angeles Times.

In October last year DesJarlais penned a column for The, decrying the stimulus program and citing such ads as an example of waste. He earned the praise of the American Beverage Association ABA). In the column, DesJarlais credited a group called Smart Taxpayers Exposing Waste (STEW) for uncovering $230 million "being used to run ads attacking America’s soft drink companies." STEW is an initiative of the ABA. Its Facebook ad urges the public to support DesJarlais' legislation.

Critics of DesJarlais' position have pointed out that the government has spent money to publicize the dangers of tobacco, despite the fact that it is legal. 

DesJarlais has also sponsored legislation to block bonuses to states for signing up people for food stamps, and he voiced concern about a now-stalled interagency report about voluntary guidelines for restricting the marketing of food to children.