No soda for you: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom — who has shown some sparks of food policy brilliance in the past — is planning on introducing a new fee on stores that sell sugar-laden drinks, with the proceeds going to programs that encourage exercise and discourage soda consumption. Newsom has been considering such a move for some time, but a new study from UCLA that links sodas and obesity in California seems to have pushed him over the edge. Among the study's findings are that $41 billion is spent treating obesity each year in California and that Americans are consuming 278 calories more than they were 30 years ago — 43 percent of them from soda. Charging a fee on stores instead of a tax on individual beverages is a back-door approach in San Francisco; taxing individual sodas would require voter approval, while the fee only needs the consent of the (unpredictable) Board of Supervisors. San Francisco would be the first city in the nation to levy a fee on soda. (States like Arkansas and Missouri already tax it.) But critics — including the city's Chamber of Commerce — wonder where the Mayor will draw the line on discouraging consumption of certain foods. Is ice cream or candy next? (San Francisco Chronicle)
When soda taxes are proposed, many ask, "Why not just get rid of subsidies on corn, which drive down the cost of high fructose corn syrup?" It's a good question, but even if removing subsidies would have a significant effect on prices (which is unlikely, according to modeling by the University of Tennessee Ag Policy Analysis Center [PDF]), such a change is a political minefield. At least for now, farm state legislators in Congress are an immovable obstacle to subsidy reform.