Midterm elections bring changes for food industry
Berkeley becomes first city with sugar-sweetened beverage tax, while Maui passes a ban on GMOs
Unsurprisingly, the midterm elections proved to be a victory for Republicans across the US. But they were also the success, and failure, of some measures that caught the attention of the food industry and could spell big changes for the future.
For example, succeeding where others have failed in recent years, residents of Berkeley, CA overwhelmingly voted to impose a law taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, which includes sodas.
More than 75 percent of the voters checked “yes” to approve the measure instituting a one-cent-per-ounce tax on the beverages, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.
A similar measure in nearby San Francisco failed to garner enough votes to pass.
The American Beverage Association, which adamantly opposed the tax, maintains its argument that the public does not support these measures and pointed to the pledge leading beverage companies have made in recent months to reduce beverage calories consumed per person by 20 percent by 2025.
“People don’t support taxes and bans on common grocery items like soft drinks,” the association says in a statement. “That’s why the public policy debate has largely moved on from taxes and bans. Our industry will continue working with serious policy leaders to focus on meaningful solutions that address the complex issue of obesity.”
According to MapLight, a research organization tracking money in politics, an analysis of California Secretary of State data revealed more than $12 million was contributed to the American Beverage Association California PAC during the past election cycle.
While Berkeley’s reputation as a liberal city has led some to brush aside sugar-sweetened beverage tax’s single victory, other analysts say there is cause for concern that other municipalities will follow its example.
Outside the contiguous US, the residents of Maui County, HI voted by a narrow margin in favor of a charter amendment to temporarily ban the cultivation of genetically engineered crops.
According to the state office of elections, 50.2 percent of voters favored the moratorium, while 47.9 voted against it.
The amendment states “the citizens of Maui County have serious concerns as to whether genetically engineered operations (also known as GMO) and practices and associated use and testing of pesticides occurring in Maui County are causing irreparable harm to the people, environment and Public Trust resources.”
The amendment suspends all GMO operations and practices in the county until an Environmental Public Health Impact Statement analysis reporting on the impact of the operations and their associated pesticide use is assembled and reviewed by county officials.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported supporters of the amendment cheered when the results were announced on local television. According to the publication, a community group called the SHAKA Movement collected enough signatures to place the proposal on the ballot.
Opponents of the ban, known as the Citizens Committee Against the Maui County Initiative, called the amendment a “deceptive and costly” measure that will criminalize and prohibit long-standing farming operations, endangering jobs.
Other ballot measures targeting GMOs were not as successful elsewhere in the US, as voters in Colorado and Oregon rejected proposals that would have required the labeling of certain GMO foods.
According to the Associated Press, the proposals would have applied to raw and packaged foods produced at least in part by genetic engineering.
Vermont also made headlines as the first state to require labels on food containing genetically modified organisms. Last month, it released preliminary draft rules that will be used to govern labels on GMO foods.
Opponents of such legislation call the laws misguided and costly attempts that will be a slippery slope for other states enacting separate GMO labeling policies.