Food Police Crack Down on Soda

Food Police Crack Down on Soda
Media treat left-wing pro-tax group as unbiased consumer advocate.

by  Megan Alvarez
July 14, 2005

     The advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is pushing its agenda of more government regulation and higher taxes on food and beverages again. And major networks, including ABC and NBC, and newspapers like the New York Post and USA Today have provided them the stage on which to promote this agenda.

     CSPI released a new report saying that the average 13- to 18-year-old boy drinks two 12-ounce cans of soda a day and the average girl consumes 1 and 1/3 cans a day.

     CSPIs director, Michael Jacobson, claimed on CBSs The Early Show on July 14, 2005, that soft drinks are a contributor to obesity, advocating for government warning labels on soft drink cans. Among the warnings Jacobson mentioned on the show were Contributes to obesity and tooth decay and Consider switching to diet soda, water, or skim milk.

     None of the July 14 reports included any information about CSPI. CSPI advocates more taxes on food and drinks, government-mandated nutrition labeling on menus at chain restaurants, and government regulation of food advertising. They also have created a category of food know as food porn. Food in this category has included pound cake, a Hardees hamburger or low-carb breakfast bowl, numerous Starbucks drinks, Oreos, Ritz Crackers with cheese, Kelloggs Nutri-Grain Yogurt bars, as well as many other foods.

     The most unbalanced report on the study was by Charles Gibson on ABCs Good Morning America. Gibsons report centered on an interview with CBSs medical contributor, David Katz, who also works for the CDC, although this was not mentioned in the report. They were seated in front of a mound of soft drinks, meant to represent the amount an average teenage boy drinks in one year, according to the CSPI study. A boy identified as Connor sipped soda on the set in the background.

     Throughout the interview, Katz essentially followed Jacobsons anti-soda agenda, while Gibson did not bother to bring in any group who disagreed with CSPI.

     Gibson set up Katz by referring to the mound of soda, saying, Is it so harmful? Gibson noted that soda has no fat calories, to which Katz replied, It doesn't matter where calories come from. Excess calories cause weight gain. Gibson asked Connor what his favorite soda was, and he said Diet Pepsi. But Katz still was not satisfied. He said, The CSPI campaign is focused on the calories in regular soda and I'm very concerned about diet soda as well.

     Katz also said, I also think parents need some support from policy change. We shouldn't have soda in schools and we have to do something about the advertising of soda to kids. Katzs suggestions were heavy on government regulation, pushing for more restrictions on the free market activities of commerce and advertising.

     His call for removal of soda from schools mirrors a plan that already failed in Texas. According to the Austin-American Statesman on Feb. 19, 2005, a candy removal plan at Austin High School was thwarted by classmates who created an underground candy market, turning the hallways of the high school into Willy-Wonka-meets-Casablanca.

Of all the reports delivered on this study on July 14, 2005, CBSs was the most balanced. Anchor Harry Smith posed many questions to Jacobson about the sensibility of his proposal. Smith opened the interview saying, I read this idea of putting these warning labels on soda cans and I thought, are we going to follow that with candy bars? Are you going to put it on Aunt Mary's blueberry cobbler? Are you serious about this? He then went on to note, The numbers are already on the can. Any can of soda has the calorie content.

     In response to Smiths questions, Jacobson replied, The U.S. government's dietary guidelines for Americans have urged people to consume less sweetened beverages. But the government doesn't do anything. Which is exactly the point they are guidelines, not mandates. Not to mention, enforcing these guidelines would be impossible.

     Smith also obtained comments on CSPIs study from the American Beverage Association (ABA), in which the ABA stated that warning labels were patronizing to consumers. Smith further questioned Jacobson saying, Can't parents have some control here? He also rightly labeled CSPI as an advocacy group.

     In print, bias cropped up in a Washington Post story on July 14 titled, Debate Pops Open Over Soda Warnings. The Post labeled CSPI as a consumer group, which has aggressively sought stricter food labels and standards, but then labeled the Center for Consumer Freedom a nonprofit group funded by restaurant chains.

USA Today also ran a story on July 14 titled, Group calls for health warnings on soft drinks. In contrast to the Post, USA Today did not use biased labels in their reporting.