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Robert Reich: Soda Tax Pits Berkeley Against Powerful Beverage Biz

September 8, 2014 in Blogs

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

If a soda tax can’t pass in the most progressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere.

I was phoned the other night in middle of dinner by an earnest young man named Spencer, who said he was doing a survey.

Rather than hang up I agreed to answer his questions. He asked me if I knew a soda tax would be on the ballot in Berkeley in November. When I said yes, he then asked whether I trusted the Berkeley city government to spend the revenues wisely.

At that moment I recognized a classic “push poll,” which is part of a paid political campaign.

So I asked Spencer a couple of questions of my own. Who was financing his survey? “Americans for Food and Beverage Choice,” he answered. Who was financing this group? “The American Beverage Association,” he said.

Spencer was so eager to get off the phone I didn’t get to ask him my third question: Who’s financing the American Beverage Association? It didn’t matter. I knew the answer: Pepsico and Coca Cola.

Welcome to Berkeley, California: Ground Zero in the Soda Wars.

Fifty years ago this month, Berkeley was the epicenter of the Free Speech Movement. Now, Berkeley is moving against Big Soda.

The new movement isn’t nearly dramatic or idealistic as the old one, but the odds of victory were probably better fifty years ago. The Free Speech Movement didn’t challenge the profitability of a one of the nation’s most powerful industries.

Sugary drinks are blamed for increasing the rates of chronic disease and obesity in America. Yet efforts to reduce their consumption through taxes or other measures have gone nowhere. The beverage industry has spent millions defeating them.

If on November 4 a majority of Berkeley voters say yes to a one-cent-per-fluid-ounce tax on distributors of sugary drinks, Berkeley could be the first city in the nation to pass a soda tax. (San Franciscans will be voting on a 2-cent per ounce proposal requiring two-thirds of them approve; Berkeley needs a mere majority.)

But if a soda tax can’t pass in the most progressive city in America, it can’t …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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