Taking an arrow from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s quiver, a bill being debated by the Assembly Committee on Appropriations in California today would ban the sale of “junk” food and “sugary” beverages in vending machines on state property. And in Wisconsin yesterday, a bill favored by Republicans that would restrict the use of food stamps for unhealthy food -- two-thirds of the items purchased must be listed in the federal Woman, Infant and Children program -- was passed by its assembly, 68 to 28.
On the positive side of the ledger for the purveyors of snack foods and beverages, Ad Age’s E.J. Schultz writes that “after Hollywood movies, soda and Justin Timberlake, America's next big export is looking like it'll be our voracious snacking appetites.”
The reason for the growth in demand is the emergence of a middle class in markets such as India, Russia, Brazil and China which, if all goes the way of the trend in this country and the rest of the “developed” world, will also see a emergence of the areas where fat collects in the body.
Based on a Bernstein Research report, Schultz’ story suggests that “Mondelez might join forces with PepsiCo to create a colossus with at least 15 global snack and candy brands each worth more than $1 billion including Tostitos, Doritos, Lays, Trident, Oreo and Nabisco,” although it also suggests such a deal might be “too disruptive.”
In California, AB 459 would “phase healthier foods into vending machines in state buildings, with the goal of reaching 100% healthy foods in machines by 2017,” David Gorn writes in California Healthline. A similar bill, also written by Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), never got out of committee last year.
“The regulations would ban options such as Doritos chips and Coca-Cola soda,” report Tiffany Hsu and Chad Terhune in the Los Angeles Times. “Permitted products would include water, milk with 2% fat or less, 100% fruit or vegetable juice and snacks with fewer than 200 calories and 230 milligrams of sodium per serving.”
Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, supports the measure, as does the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS).
"AB 459 poses the question of whether, in the midst of a $52 billion obesity epidemic, the state of California should be selling its employees soda and junk food on state property," he tells Gorn. “This bill gets the state out of the soda and junk food business.”
But Tom Linker, chair of the California Vendors Policy Committee, which represents blind vendors in the state, says the legislation would not only “do harm to those who employ many thousands of people in this state,” it would also deny folks want they really want to eat. “We're finding we're disposing of [healthier foods],” he says, “because of persons not purchasing them.”
CalPERS officials claim “a 1% reduction in chronic conditions could save the agency $3.6 million a year,” Hsu and Terhune write, but some board members are “skeptical.”
"This may make a minor improvement in people's health, but if they have to, people will smuggle in candy bars," board member J.J. Jelincic tells the reporters. "I just think it's the ultimate nanny bill. It's idiotic."
Meanwhile, “an odd coalition of advocates for the needy, local retailers and big corporations is opposing a fast-moving bill limiting junk food for food stamp recipients,” Jason Stein writes in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, that was passed yesterday.
The bill is sponsored by a former potato chip salesman and Republican, Dean Kaufert, who says the legislation “makes sense as a response to the stories he hears from retail clerks and others about FoodShare benefits being used for large junk food purchases,” according to Stein, who points out that “the bill reverses politicians' usual positions on the government deciding food purchases.”
Democrats are against it; Republicans are for it, in other words. Some Democrats say the legislation “will stigmatize poor people who already have limited options in buying food,” reports the AP’s Kevin Wang. And the executive director of Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee says, “Although well-intended,” it would cost taxpayers too much money. “We just can't afford all of the grocery store nannies this would take to implement," says Sherrie Tussler.
“I readily admit that implementation could be a challenge,” says Kaufert, according to Bob Hague of the Wisconsin Radio Network. “But you know what? We are right around the corner [with] technology in these smart cards, and I think they’re going to be utilized in much different ways then they are now, so I don’t think it’s going to be much of a problem.”
Corporate opponents to the measure include Kraft Food Group, PepsiCo and state associations representing food processors, convenience stores and retailers. The bill must pass the Senate and will require a waiver from the feds –- a big hurdle -- before it takes effect.