Bloomberg sugary drink ban has powerful opponents


Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement that the city will pursue a ban on large sugary drinks sold at restaurants, movie theatres, and other locations is just the latest attempt in his campaign against obesity–one that has so far met with little success in the face of a powerful food lobby, one sometimes joined by odd bedfellows.

In 2010, when his administration asked the federal government for permission to prohibit New York City food stamp recipients from purchasing sugary drinks with their benefits, the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, a trade group representing New York State grocers and other retailers, was not pleased.

In a letter written to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) obtained by Sunlight via a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA), the group argued that Food Stamps recipients should be able to make their own nutritional choices just like anyone else and that banning one unhealthy food could become a slippery slope to excluding others.

"Once such a … precedent is established, government could easily expand its perogative to other categories it deems "nutritionally questionable" (salt due to hypertension, saturated food due to heart disease, etc.)," wrote the trade group.

Also writing a letter was a group not associated with corporate lobbying — the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. The group argued that the proposal "criminalizes hunger by eliminating the ability of low-income SNAP [food stamp] recipients to even occasionaly obtain sugar-sweetened beverages." 

Among the industry groups that reported lobbying around the Food Stamp program the following year were the American Beverage Association, Pepsico, and Coca Cola.

In August 2011, the USDA denied New York City's request for the waiver.

In 2010, Bloomberg also championed a penny-per-ounce tax on soda, which failed in the face of a lobbying campaign by the soda industry. Similar efforts in other 30 other states have been beaten back, including a recent effort to impose such a tax in Hawaii, reported Bloomberg News in March.

New York City lobbying records show that beverage and restaurant groups spend big to influence city politics.