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The End of New York’s Large Soda Ban

March 24, 2013

Coke-Pepsi-and-others-fight-soda-ban-671SJV4L-x-largeI’ve been meaning to write about the decision of a New York State judge to strike down Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks. The judge’s decision, which came just a day before the new ban was supposed to take effect, effectively ended, at least for the time being, efforts to limit the size of sodas sold in New York City.

In his ruling, Justice Milton Tingling called Bloomberg’s proposed ban “arbitrary and capricious” and that it could create “uneven enforcement, even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole.”

While the beverage industry had been lobbying hard against the proposed ban, what was particularly interesting the politics of their effort was the broad alliance they were able to create. The beverage industry has provided dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations, and local schools with tens of millions of dollars in recent years. As a story in the New York Times noted,

“Soda companies have sponsored conferences for the National Hispana Leadership Institute, scholarships for local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, financial literacy classes offered by the National Puerto Rican Coalition and programs from the National Hispanic Medical Association.

These connections came to the fore recently when the New York chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., along with the Hispanic Federation, a coalition of Hispanic community service agencies in the New York area, filed an amicus brief in support of the beverage industry’s effort to block Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposal for a citywide ban on large, sugary beverages.”

Although not mentioned in the story, local schools also receive money (in the form of “pouring rights”) from beverage manufacturers. According to a story in Mother Jones last year, some 80 percent of schools have contracts with either Coke or Pepsi. Those contracts permit the beverage company to have a monopoly on the sale of beverages in the school. In exchange, the school receives money which is used to pay for basic expenses like field trips, gym uniforms, classroom equipment, and other items which schools would not otherwise be able to afford.

In an era of declining spending on education across the United States, schools are increasingly reliant on these types of agreements to offset the loss of state support. Politics, as they say, makes for strange bedfellows.

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