Lifestyle

 

Beverage industry douses tax on soft drinks

LATIMES.COM | Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger | 02/07/10

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Read More: corruption, diabetes, lobbyist, soft drink

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The idea had been floated as a way to finance a healthcare overhaul while combating obesity. But the industry has lobbied key lawmakers and financed scientific studies favorable to its position.

 

Employing a broad-based lobbying effort, the soft drink industry has smothered a plan to tax sugared beverages -- a plan advocates said would have reduced obesity and helped finance healthcare reform.

Only months ago, public health advocates thought the tax would be a natural for congressional Democrats looking for revenue to fund expanded health insurance coverage. The soaring costs of treating ailments related to excess weight -- including diabetes and heart disease -- added urgency to the issue.

But the White House staff reviewing funding options never embraced the idea even after President Obama expressed interest last summer. A key congressional committee, after initially seeming receptive, ended up refusing to consider it. Several minority advocacy groups, including some committed to fighting obesity, lined up against the tax after years of receiving financial support from the industry.

There is no sign that First Lady Michelle Obama will mention taxes Tuesday when she unveils her new healthy-eating initiative, which had input from fast food and soft drink representatives.

Meanwhile, beverage lobbyists attacked some of the country's most distinguished nutrition scientists, accusing them of bias and distorting available evidence. The beverage industry also financed research that reached conclusions favorable to its position.

No one underestimated the difficulty of getting new taxes approved, but Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Lakewood), a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said, "We thought we had a chance to punch through."

That was before the industry unlimbered its guns.

Target lawmakers

From the beginning, fast food and beverage company executives were uneasy about President Obama. He and his wife were known advocates of healthy eating. The executives were also concerned that the promised Obama healthcare initiative might include taxes or other incentives to reduce consumption of fast food and high-calorie beverages.

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