NPR: Soda Ban Ruling a 'Setback' in Effort to 'Change Unhealthful Food Habits'

July 31st, 2013 1:27 PM

As I argued yesterday, the unanimous state court ruling in New York blocking Mayor Mike Bloomberg's ban on fountain soda cups larger than 16 ounces in capacity would be portrayed in the liberal media as a setback to a well-meaning public health effort and a boon to big business. True to form, taxpayer-subsidized NPR is peddling this spin to readers of its website while completely ignoring how the ruling is a win for consumer choice or how continuing to litigate this in courts may be a waste of taxpayer money.

Here's how Eliza Barclay dealt with the ruling in her July 30 blog post at's food blog, "The Salt," headlined, "Despite Legal Blow, New York To Keep Up Sugary Drink Fight" (emphasis mine):

A state appeals court on Tuesday rejected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to limit the size of sugary beverages sold in his city. But in a statement, Bloomberg and the city's top lawyer, Michael Cardozo, called the decision a "temporary setback" and vowed to appeal.

"The Board of Health overstepped the boundaries of its lawfully delegated authority when it promulgated the portion cap rule to curtail the consumption of soda drinks," Justice Dianne T. Renwick wrote in the . "It therefore violated the state principle of separation of powers."

The decision was a blow for the city's Board of Health, which had met significant opposition from the food and beverage industry for its move to change unhealthful food habits through portion-size regulation.

A lower court judge overturned the ban in March on the grounds that Bloomberg's regulations of the sale of the drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and other food service establishments were "arbitrary and capricious." City officials immediately appealed.

In May 2012, Bloomberg introduced the limits, which would have required food service establishments to cap sugary beverages at 16 ounces. Though the industry called the regulations flawed, some researchers who study the effect of sugar and sugary beverages on health say the government must intervene if sugar consumption is to be cut in the U.S.

More than half of adults in New York City are obese or overweight, Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's health commissioner, has said. He blames sweetened drinks for rising obesity rates. Harvard's Walter Willett concurs. As he told The Salt in January, "It's impossible to eat 17 teaspoons of sugar, but it's very easy to drink at 20-ounce soda with 17 teaspoons of sugar."

While they wait for the next appeals process to be resolved, major soda drinkers might consider switching to diet soda. As Allison Aubrey reported, two recent studies show that swapping Coke for Diet Coke may make a difference for people trying to manage their weight.

Let's look at three things.

First, Barclay failed to mention that the soda ban has plenty of loopholes. For example, convenience and grocery stores would have been exempt, able to dispense jumbo-size sodas while smaller mom & pop bodegas would not. That would create a competitive advantage for larger national chains, like 7-Eleven, while harming small retailers. Indeed, the lawsuit in question was filed by the New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in large part because of that fact.

Milk-based sugary drinks, like lattes, were also exempt, proving a boon to coffee chains like Starbucks.

Secondly, you'll notice that Barclay pits the underlying struggle as one supposedly pitting apolitical scientists and well-meaning public servants versus the soda "industry," again, even though it was a Hispanic chamber of commerce that filed suit.

In other words, a group of hardworking minority businessmen take on the wealthy, liberal white mayor of a major metropolitan city and win, not once, but twice in court. Barclay, however, fails to obtain a reaction from the victorious plaintiff, the New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce? The liberal media love it when Hispanic groups slam the mostly-white, conservative national Republican Party for its skepticism of "immigration reform," but when it comes to Hispanic businessmen challenging a media darling like Mike Bloomberg, well, that's a different story.

Thirdly, absolutely missing-in-action from Barclay's story is any consideration of the sentiments of the average New York City consumer, many of whom no doubt strongly disagree with the soda ban, cheer the court's decision, and oppose the wasting of their hard-earned tax dollars to win this fight in a higher court.

It's a complete dereliction of duty for a reporter assigned to a food blog which touts itself as "cover[ing] food news from the farm to the plate and beyond" with a "pinch of skepticism and a dash of fun."