Taxing soda could trim State deficits, says report
“I actually think it’s an idea that we should be exploring. There’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda.” -President Barack Obama to Men’s Health

Even as 48 states and the District of Columbia are facing grim budget shortfalls, only 25 states currently impose special taxes on soda and other beverages with added sugar, and all of those taxes are very small. And according to a new paper from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, states could generate a total of more than $10 billion per year by levying a tax of 7 cents per 12-ounce can of Coke or Mountain Dew. If implemented by Congress in the form of a national excise tax, that $10 billion could make an important contribution toward paying for health coverage for all Americans.

Plus, says CSPI, the decrease in soda consumption due to a higher price would help reduce the incidence of obesity, diabetes and other costly chronic diseases. Americans spend approximately $147 billion a year on medical expenditures related to obesity, of which half is paid with Medicare and Medicaid dollars.

CSPI’s report comes shortly after seven prominent nutrition experts made the case for a tax on soda in a separate paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In September, the prestigious Institute of Medicine included soda taxes as one of several policies that should be adopted to help reduce obesity, and a Brookings Institution committee on health reform, led by former Medicare and Food and Drug Administration director Mark McClellan, issued a report that called for a soft-drink tax. President Obama’s interview with Men’s Health magazine is further renewing interest in soda taxes, according to CSPI.

“President Obama is exactly right when he say kids are drinking too much soda,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Soda is dirt cheap and promotes expensive and debilitating diseases, which in turn run up health-care costs at all levels of government. Federal, state, and even local governments would be wise to institute or increase taxes on a product that causes so much medical and financial harm.”

Also recently, a joint statewide study from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research confirmed that soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the largest—if not the largest—contributors to obesity. According to the study, the 24 percent of adults who drink one or more non-diet sodas a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight than adults who don’t drink soda.

On its web site, CSPI has a Liquid Candy Calculator that enables legislative staffers or citizens to calculate the revenue their state could raise from sales or excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The Senate Finance Committee raised the prospect of soda taxes and higher alcohol taxes when it released a policy options paper on health care reform in May. Such taxes were not included in the draft legislation released by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) yesterday, nor have they been offered in an amendment during the committee’s ongoing markup, but CSPI and other health groups are still urging members of both houses of Congress to include soda taxes in the final legislation.

“About half of the states have small soda taxes and there certainly hasn’t been any outrage over them,” said Jacobson. “If the Senate Finance Committee decides to leave these billions and billions of dollars on the table, I suspect more state legislatures will tap soda taxes to help pay for their own prevention efforts. In fact, more states could do what New York City is doing, and fund an ad campaign designed to discourage soda consumption.” -Center for Science in the Public Interest


Appropriations reflect program growth and expansion
Congress put the finishing touches on a fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill on October 7th that includes important expansions for key federal nutrition programs. The final bill (H.R. 2997), which passed the House on a 263-162 vote and was endorsed in the Senate by a 76-22 tally, includes $97.58 billion in mandatory spending and another $23.30 billion for discretionary programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bulk of the funds are dedicated to nutrition assistance programs.
A total of $58.278 billion has been allocated for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a $4.3 billion increase above 2009 and enough funds to aid more than 36 million people a month. The WIC Program is slated to receive $7.252 billion, an increase of $398 million above last year’s non-emergency level. The WIC total includes funds to increase fruit and vegetable voucher amounts up to levels recommended by the Institute of Medicine, $80 million to support breastfeeding initiatives, $60 million for improved state management information systems, $14 million for infrastructure improvements, and continued exemption of military combat pay from WIC income considerations.

Other child nutrition programs were allotted $16.9 billion, an increase of $1.9 billion over 2009. Some of the funds will be directed to expansion efforts. Afterschool meals in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) will be permitted in four new jurisdictions (CT, DC, NV, and WI), besides the 10 states in the program now. Annual funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) was raised to $171 million, allowing seven new states (AR, DE, GA, ME, NJ, OK, and UT) to join 32 others in operating a CSFP for women, children, and the elderly.

The appropriations bill also contains $49.95 million for storage and distribution costs under The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), $6 million to initiate a Food Bank Infrastructure Grants Program, $3 million to promote Hunger-Free Communities, and more than $130 million for one-time grant opportunities that will feed low-income children in demonstration projects during the summer months, increase direct certification of low-income children for school meals, enhance breastfeeding efforts, and continue school equipment assistance grants. -Foodlinks America


WIC Watch
New food package being offered: As of October 1, 2009, after more than a quarter century, the quantity and variety of foods in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC Program) has changed. Although the program’s basic list of milk, cheese, eggs, fruit juice, cereal, and infant formula has been retained, amounts of milk, cheese, eggs, and fruit juice were reduced in order to add fruits and vegetables to the food package.

Millions of WIC participants nationwide can now buy fresh, canned, or frozen produce at farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and supermarkets. The new scheme also allows health and lifestyle appropriate substitutions, such as whole grain tortillas and brown rice. Tofu and soy or lactose-free milk can be obtained in place of regular milk. Salmon or sardines may be purchased instead of tuna. -Foodlinks America


Proposed Ag appropriations includes nearly $7 million for NOP
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) recently expressed excitement that the agriculture appropriations language reached in conferencing of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate includes $6.967 million in funding for the National Organic Program (NOP) for Fiscal Year 2010.

Of that proposed for NOP, an increase of $300,000 would be allocated to enhance accreditation and oversight capabilities.

Other funding provisions would provide:

  • $200,000 to the Inspector General’s office for work relating to NOP, specifically to examine the processes that NOP uses to protect the integrity of the program.
  • Not less than $500,000 to USDA’s Economic Research Service for the Organic Production and Market Data initiative.
  • $250,000 to the National Agricultural Statistics Service to complete the analysis and summary of, and continuation of data collection related to, the Organic Production Survey.
  • For the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), $5 million would go to organic transition research funding. In addition, for special research grants, $149,000 would go for organic cropping in Oregon, $264,000 for organic cropping in Washington, and $69,000 for organic waste utilization in New Mexico.

OTA expects that the Fiscal Year 2010 agriculture appropriations figures will be passed by both houses, perhaps as early as next week. The bill would then need the President’s signature before going into effect.

OTA wants to thank all of its members who took part in Hill Visit Day last March and made requests for additional funding for these programs. The results show that such visits are an effective way to help members of Congress understand the needs of the organic sector. -Reprinted from The Organic Trade Association’s website at www.ota.com


Major changes recommended for school meals
A prestigious national committee has proposed revision of nutrition standards for the school lunch and breakfast programs in a move that could affect the way more than 30 million American children eat. A special panel of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, on October 20th, with recommendations that the U.S. Department of

Agriculture (USDA) adopt standards for menu planning that include:

  • Increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains;
  • Setting a minimum and maximum level of calories; and
  • Focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium.

Reactions to the report were positive, but it was generally acknowledged that implementing the recommendations will take considerable time and money. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) in Washington, D.C. applauded the “long-overdue overhaul of school meal standards,” but cautioned that they must be “accompanied by efforts to expand student participation” and “must not reduce access.”

USDA, for its part, said it will begin working to turn the suggested improvements into law. “Experts at USDA are engaged in a thorough review of the IOM recommendations and will develop a proposed rule to determine the best ways to improve the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program based on IOM’s final report,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

School food service directors, though, were more pragmatic. “School nutrition programs, long under-funded and pressured by rising costs, will need more than just ‘Building Blocks’ to improve on our success,” said Dora Rivas of Dallas, TX, president of the School Nutrition Association. “Congress needs to provide the mortar through higher federal reimbursement rates for school meals,” she stated.
To view the IOM report, go to: http://www.iom.edu/en/Reports/2009/School-Meals-Building-Blocks-for-Healthy-Children.aspx. -Foodlinks America


Benchmark Monterey Bay Aquarium report finds future of global seafood supply at a turning point
Global prospects for securing a sustainable seafood supply and protecting ocean ecosystems are improving, thanks to a growing consensus on how best to manage fisheries and fish-farming operations, and new commitments by consumers, major buyers and the fishing community.

That’s the conclusion of a benchmark research report—“Turning the Tide: The State of Seafood”—released October 20th by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on the 25th anniversary of the aquarium and the 10th anniversary of its Seafood Watch program.

The report was released at the California Science Center, which announced a new partnership with the aquarium to advance public and business awareness about the connection between seafood choices and the health of the world’s oceans. The Center will collaborate with the aquarium on many programs in the months and years to come, and will open new Ecosystems exhibits in the spring of 2010. The aquarium also announced a partnership between Seafood Watch and Santa Monica Seafood—the largest seafood distributor in the southwest and an emerging national leader in sustainability.

“The State of Seafood” details significant and continuing threats to healthy oceans from mismanagement of wild-caught fisheries and a booming fish-farming sector, and highlights trends that offer hope for the future.

In conjunction with release of the report, the aquarium has launched a national campaign asking top chefs and culinary leaders to take a “Save Our Seafood” pledge not to serve items from the aquarium’s Seafood Watch red “Avoid” list as a way to restore ocean health. More than two dozen prominent figures have signed on already, including Los Angeles chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (Border Grill/Ciudad), and Suzanne Goin (Lucques), along with Alton Brown (Be Square Productions, Atlanta), Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, Chicago), Susan Spicer (Bayona, New Orleans), Rick Moonen (rm seafood, Las Vegas), Fedele Bauccio (Bon Appétit Management Co., Palo Alto), Michelle Bernstein (Michy’s, Miami), and Michel Nischan (The Dressing Room, Westport, Conn.).
The “State of Seafood” report also identifies a “Super Green” list of wild and farmed seafood—items that are both good for human health and are produced in ways that protect ocean ecosystems. The list was developed in collaboration with scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Copies of “The State of Seafood” report, including the “Super Green” list, are available at www.montereybayaquarium.org/seafoodwatch. The aquarium will update the report every two years.

“Ocean life is still in decline and we clearly need to take urgent action to turn things around,” said aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The good news is that we know what it will take, and that key players are working more closely than ever to solve the problems. I’m confident that we can and will create a future with healthy oceans.”

While many other human activities strain the marine environment—including growing impacts from global climate change—the primary factors in the oceans’ decline today are related to commercial fishing: failure to consider the entire ecosystem when managing fisheries and aquaculture operations, and the rapid industrialization of fishing effort worldwide to keep up with growing human demand for seafood, the report concludes.

A century of industrial-scale fishing and ineffective management has left major commercial fisheries around the world in need of rebuilding. Many have collapsed. In addition, populations of large, long-lived animals, including whales, sharks, turtles, tunas, manatees, rockfish and billfishes, have plummeted.

Ocean wildlife caught commercially are not the only species affected. Bycatch—the unwanted or unintentional catch of animals in fishing gear—is the single greatest threat for nearly 250 species of threatened or endangered ocean animals, according to the report.
While wild fisheries have reached a plateau, demand for seafood continues to grow worldwide. In 2009, farmed seafood will for the first time eclipse wild-caught fish in the human diet. Yet management of aquaculture has not kept up with skyrocketing global expansion.
Yet for all the discouraging trends, there is an equally long list of positive new developments, the report finds. These include:

  • The release earlier in 2009 of a consensus scientific study that unified marine ecologists and fisheries management scientists on a set of principles for restoring ocean ecosystems and commercial fish populations.
  • Significant new commitments from major seafood buyers, including retailers like Walmart and North America’s largest food service companies, to shift their purchases to seafood from sustainable sources.
  • Growth in the supply of sustainable seafood that has been certified by reputable international organizations, notably the Marine Stewardship Council.
  • Adoption by governments around the world of policies to better manage fisheries and fish-farming, reduce the rate at which wildlife is caught and killed accidentally in fishing gear, and to protect critical ocean habitat vital to maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium recognized the warning signs more than a decade ago, first when it opened a special exhibition on the topic and later when—in response to public demand—it created its acclaimed Seafood Watch program.

Since 1999, Seafood Watch has become a recognizable standard and reference point for millions of conservation-minded consumers, and for restaurateurs and major seafood buyers in the United States.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is working with 14 other nonprofit organizations across the United States and Canada as part of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions (www.solutionsforseafood.org). Participating organizations have crafted a Common Vision for Environmentally Sustainable Seafood to help seafood buyers and suppliers develop comprehensive, corporate policies on sustainable seafood.

Since the debut of the Common Vision in 2008, more than 20 major companies across North America have pledged their support.
In 2009 the Monterey Bay Aquarium celebrates 25 years of inspiring ocean conservation. - www.montereybayaquarium.org