by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Mexico

Jun 14 2017

Sugar policy again: this time Mexico

I can’t believe that I am writing about sugar policy again.  The Trump Administration has just gotten a preliminary agreement with Mexico about the sugar it exports to us.

Mexico says OK, (1) it won’t make us pay as much for it, and (2) it will restrict how much refined (white) sugar it sends.

This is great for U.S. sugar processors who turn raw sugar into white.  They want Mexico to send raw sugar so U.S. processing plants stay busy.

But food and beverage companies making products will have to pay more for sugar.  They belong to the Coalition for Sugar Reform, which is not happy about the agreement.

Under NAFTA, Mexico could sell unlimited amounts of sugar to us.   But our domestic sugar producers complained the Mexicans were “dumping” subsidized sugar and undercutting their prices.  In retaliation,

  • We threatened to impose tariffs.
  • Mexico threatened to stop buying our high-fructose corn syrup (it currently buys 80% of our HFCS).

Three years ago, we got Mexico to agree to set minimum prices and limit the amount of sugar it sells to us.  The new arrangement confirms that deal, at least for the moment.

As for us public health types, sugar policy is endlessly weird.  Domestically, we don’t produce enough sugar to meet demands so we have to import sugar from other countries.  We keep domestic prices high through quotas, buy-backs and price-support loans.  This ought to discourage consumption, but does not.

How come?  Because the higher price, amounting to billions a year overall, works out to only about $10 per year per capita.

This is not high enough to:

  • Reduce sugar consumption
  • Improve health
  • Generate outrage

Want to read more about this?

 

Feb 13 2017

Mexican soda tax advocates victims of government-linked spyware hacking

Who knew that such things existed, let alone that they would be directed at anti-obesity and pro-soda tax advocates.

The New York Times reports that frightening messages about their families (the article gives examples) were sent to the advocates with links

laced with an invasive form of spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli cyberarms dealer that sells its digital spy tools exclusively to governments and that has contracts with multiple agencies inside Mexico, according to company emails leaked to the New York Timeslast year.

Supposedly, this Group sells “tools only to governments for criminal and terrorism investigations.”  These can “trace a target’s every phone call, text message, email, keystroke, location, sound and sight.”

As the Times gently puts it, this discovery “raises new questions about whether NSO’s tools are being used to advance the soda industry’s commercial interests in Mexico.”

Citizen Lab has more information about this situation.

The spyware targeted these individuals:

  • Dr. Simon Barquera is a well-respected researcher at the Mexican Government’s Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (National Institute of Public Health).
  • Alejandro Calvillo is the Director of El Poder del Consumidor, a consumer rights and health advocacy organization.
  • Luis Encarnación is the Director of the Coalición ContraPESO, a coalition of more than 40 organizations that work on obesity prevention and reduction strategies.  All three individuals work to support Mexico’s soda tax.

I am leaving on Wednesday for three weeks on a Fulbright to the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca and hope to find out a lot more about this.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a tweet from someone I don’t know (I like the soda cans).

Late addition:  Gary Ruskin sends his paper on corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations.  

 

Jan 15 2016

Weekend Reading: Divided Spirits

Sarah Bowen.  Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production.  University of California Press, 2015

This remarkable book, a recent addition to UC Press’s series on California Studies in Food and Culture, uses drinks distilled from roasted, fermented agave as a basis for entering into debates about production and protection of indigenous food products in the face of globalization.

In recent years, traditional foods and drinks have emerged as profitable and politically salient alternatives to the perceived homogenizing effects of globalization.  Initiatives like the Slow Food movement and DOs [denomination of origin] attempt to rescue eating establishments, dishes, and products from the flood of standardization engendered by the industrial food system.  In doing so, they strive to support the rural communities, farmers, and processors involved in the production of traditional products.  And yet, as my research shows, efforts to regulate Mexico’s iconic spirits illustrate the limitations of relying on alternative markets to protect food cultures and the livelihoods of those who produce them.  My work demonstrates how cultural symbolism can be manipulated to perpetuate and deepen long-standing inequalities along global commodity chains.

Or, as she explains much later, “the right to define what constitutes ‘tequila’ and ‘mezcal’ extends as much from market power and it does from a sense of tradition or justice.”

Consider this book with your next Margarita.

Oct 20 2015

Uh oh. Big Soda lobbyists weaken Mexican soda tax

Yesterday, I received this ALERT from health advocates in Mexico:

Big Soda negotiates behind doors with PRI to reduce Mexican SSB tax to 5% for drinks with 5 grams of added sugars per 100ml– Public health advocates denounce conflict of interest and speak out in defense of the tax

Yesterday Mexico’s Congressional Finance Committee proposed and voted in favor of an alarming measure to reduce the rate of the current 10% sugar-sweetened beverage tax to 5% on products with 5 grams of added sugar or less per 100 milliliters. The measure was pushed through committee vote with a reservation from only one political party and moves on to a vote in the lower house within the next 24-48 hours. Beverages with more than 5 grams of added sugar per 100 milliliters would continue to be taxed at 10% (1 peso per liter).

A columnist in one of Mexico’s most prominent dailies indicates that this negotiation between the FEMSA Coca-Cola bottling company and the PRI political party (current administration and majority vote holder in Congress and Senate) came about after attempts at a food and beverage industry negotiation with the PRI, seeking to reduce Mexico’s SSB and snack taxes. The columnist says Bimbo (&the food industry) was eventually excluded from this negotiation to focus on an attainable goal of reducing the SSB tax. (See column in Spanish: http://www.dineroenimagen.com/2015-10-19/63221 )

After several recent press conferences and an act in Congress “to trap” industry lobby mosquitos (Oct 6), continuing to call for an increase to a 20% SSB tax in accordance with national and international expert recommendations, and warning the public and decision makers of industry lobby, today civil society advocates –the Nutritional Health Alliance and ContraPESO– published a full page ad in Mexico’s most important daily asking whether legislators are on the side of public health or soda industry interests and calling on them not to cede to the industry lobby.

In the ad (see translation below and image attached), advocates warn that the most currently consumed 600 ml sugary drink on the Mexican market that has 5 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters contains 30 grams of sugar, above the WHO’s new guidelines for healthy living.

The language of the initiative to reduce the tax recognizes the SSB tax as a public health measure and the progress made, yet proceeds to reduce the tax far below the expert recommended rate, representating a setback to Mexico’s landmark tax.

FYI: Although Mexico’s lower house of Congress (Chamber of Deputies) holds authority over final budget decisions on income, Mexican legislative process entails that the budget package, once voted in the lower house, passes to the Senate for review and a vote, before passing back to the lower house for final approval.

TO SUPPORT MEXICAN ADVOCATES:
Tweet indignation over industry back-door negotiation and support for the current tax and need for an increased tax: #ImpuestoAlRefresco
Press interviews: contact comunicacion@elpoderdelconsumidor.org
If you or your association can emit a declaration or letter of support, send to:
comunicacion@elpoderdelconsumidor.org
desarrolloinstitucional@elpoderdelconsumidor.org

PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCATES IN MEXICO – Ad in Reforma newspapers OCT 19, 2015 – IN DEFENSE OF MEXICAN SSB TAX. Translation:
Members of Congress:

Have you let yourselves be bitten by the sugar-sweetened beverage lobby mosquitos?:

Do you serve soda industry or public health interests?

– The tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is 10% (1 peso) and not 20% (2 pesos) per liter as recommended by international and national organizations.

– The proposal to lower the tax to 5% to beverages with 5 grams or less of sugar per 100 milliliters acquiesces to soda industry interests, which are the parties mainly responsible for the collapse of public health in Mexico.

– The most consumed 600 milliliter drink in Mexico has 5 grams of sugar for every 100 milliliters contains 30 grams of sugar (6 spoonfuls).

– This surpasses the 25 grams (5 spoonfuls) that the World Health Organization establishes as a maximum amount of added sugars per day in order to preserve one’s health. (1)

– Sugar is not an essential nutrient and there is solid evidence showing that its consumption is harmful to health, contributing to overweight, obesity and caries, serious public health problems in Mexico.

Sugar-sweetened beverages kill more Mexicans a year than organized crime. (2)

Whose side are you on?

DO NOT GIVE IN TO INDUSTRY PRESSURE!

Show that you work to protect the public health of the Mexican population and not Big Soda’s profits.

We demand that the special tax be preserved and increased to 20% for ALL SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES, as recommended by international and national organizations.