by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Taxes

Mar 17 2020

Desperate for good news? Two cheery items

We need some good news.   I can offer two items.

1.  Coca-Cola says it will align executive pay to employee pay

Coca-Cola has agreed to “consider the wages it pays all of its employees when setting executive salaries”, for the purpose of aligning them more closely.

This happened as the result of action by the New York State Common Retirement Fund.  The Fund complained that CEO compensation has increased enormously while average wages have made meager gains, to the point where the ratio of CEO to worker compensation has gone up in some instances by nearly 1,400%.

According to Food Dive’s account

Following the agreement with the beverage giant, the fund, which is among the company’s top 50 shareholders with 9,275,387 shares as of the end of 2019, withdrew a shareholder resolution against the company. Coca-Cola agreed to add language to its upcoming proxy statement that said “the compensation approach used to set CEO and (named executive) pay” would be the same one it uses to determine compensation for the broader workforce.

Food Dive points out that

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey made about $18.7 million in 2019, according to a company spokesman. He was paid $16.7 million in 2018. As of April 1, 2019, Quincey’s base salary was increased 6.7% to $1.6 million “to align (it) with the competitive market,” the beverage company said in a recent proxy.

What this means in practice remains to be seen.  It’s hard to imagine that executives will get a pay cut but maybe employees will see a pay raise?  Let’s hope so.  In any case, cheers to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli for using the Retirement Fund’s clout.

2.  While it lasted, Chicago’s Soda Tax worked

Chicago passed a soda tax but then rescinded it four months later under pressure from the American Beverage Association, which whipped up public opposition.

Now, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reports that during the months the tax was in effect, the sales volume of taxed sodas dropped by 27% in Cook County relative to St. Louis.  The net decrease was 21% after cross-border shopping was accounted for.

The tax raised nearly $62 million—in those four months—of which nearly $17 million went to a county health fund.

No wonder the American Beverage Association so strongly opposes soda taxes.

  • They reduce sales
  • They generate funds for health and social purposes
Jan 7 2020

Food politics issues for 2020: Science, Immigration, Taxes

Let’s start the new year with three articles in the New York Times about policies that might not seem to but do bear directly on food politics.

Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work

 “The disregard for expertise in the federal government is worse than it’s ever been,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which has tracked more than 200 reports of Trump administration efforts to restrict or misuse science since 2017. “It’s pervasive.”

At the USDA,

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in June he would relocate two key research agencies to Kansas City from Washington: The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a scientific agency that funds university research on topics like how to breed cattle and corn that can better tolerate drought conditions, and the Economic Research Service, whose economists produce studies for policymakers on farming trends, trade and rural America.  Nearly 600 employees had less than four months to decide whether to uproot and move. Most couldn’t or wouldn’t, and two-thirds of those facing transfer left their jobs.

The reaction?  In August, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, appeared to celebrate the departures.

“It’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” he said in videotaped remarks at a Republican Party gala in South Carolina…”What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”

After ICE Raids, a Reckoning in Mississippi’s Chicken Country

The sweeping immigration raids on seven chicken plants in central Mississippi forced hundreds of Latino workers out and opened up jobs for African-Americans.  The article quotes one saying “it felt good to be earning $11.23 an hour, even if the new job entailed cutting off necks and pulling out guts on a seemingly endless conveyor of carcasses.”

How Big Companies Won New Tax Breaks From the Trump Administration

But big companies wanted more…The tax bills of many big companies have ended up even smaller than what was anticipated when the president signed the bill.

The article cites three beverage and food companies—Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz—as among those participating in the lobbying blitz.

Such companies also deployed elaborate techniques that let the companies pay taxes at far less than the 35 percent corporate tax rate.”

Comment

Food politics is a full employment act.  We have plenty of work to do this year to create a healthier, more just, and more sustainable food system.

Oct 9 2019

Sugar reduction in the UK: Taxes work, voluntary does not

I was alerted to this story by the FoodNavigator-USA headline: Sugar content in soft drinks cut by nearly a third as voluntary efforts fall way off target.

Public Health England’s latest progress report on the food and drink industry’s sugar cutting efforts reveal significant changes in areas where the sugar tax applies, but a disappointing lack of progress with the voluntary sugar reduction programme.

The Year 2 progress report finds:

  • The sugar in taxed drinks affected by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) decreased by 28.8% between 2015 and 2018.
  • For non-taxed products, the reduction in sugar was only 2.9%.
  • Total sugar increased by 2.6%: the largest increases were for ice cream, candies, sweet spreads, and cookies.

Moral: if you want companies to reduce sugar in their products, tax them.

Mar 26 2019

Pediatric Academy and Heart Association endorse soda taxes!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have issued a joint statement endorsing soda taxes along with other policies aimed at reducing risks for childhood obesity (the full statement is published in Pediatrics).

The AAP and AHA recommend:

  • Local, state and national policymakers should consider raising the price of sugary drinks, such as via an excise tax, along with an accompanying educational campaign. Tax revenues should go in part toward reducing health and socioeconomic disparities.
  • Federal and state governments should support efforts to decrease sugary drink marketing to children and teens.
  • Healthy drinks such as water and milk should be the default beverages on children’s menus and in vending machines, and federal nutrition assistance programs should ensure access to healthy food and beverages and discourage consumption of sugary drinks.
  • Children, adolescents, and their families should have ready access to credible nutrition information, including on nutrition labels, restaurant menus, and advertisements.
  • Hospitals should serve as a model and establish policies to limit or discourage purchase of sugary drinks.

Comment:  This action of the AAP is truly remarkable.  In 2015, this Academy was heavily criticized for taking funding from Coca-Cola and, surely not coincidentally, saying little about the need for children to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.  Once exposed, the AAP said it could no longer accept that funding. I did, however, hear an alternative story.  Coca-Cola officials told me that as a result of their transparency initiative, the company would no longer fund the Pediatric, Dietetic, and Family Practice Academies.  It is also hardly a coincidence that now that the AAP no longer takes money from Coke, it is free to promote soda taxes as a useful public health strategy.

Jun 4 2018

US vetoes any mention of soda taxes in WHO committee report on preventing noncommunicable (chronic) disease

The AP reports that the reason the WHO committee on preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) did not recommend soda taxes is that the US representative vetoed the idea.

The Trump administration has torpedoed a plan to recommend higher taxes on sugary drinks, forcing a World Health Organization panel to back off the U.N. agency’s previous call for such taxes as a way to fight obesity, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions.

The move disappointed many public health experts but was enthusiastically welcomed by the International Food and Beverage Alliance — a group that represents companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo. and Unilever.

The WHO committee’s report appeared in The Lancet last week.  About soda taxes, it said:

The Commissioners represented rich and diverse views and perspectives. There was broad agreement in most areas, but some views were conflicting and could not be resolved. As such, some recommendations, such as reducing sugar consumption through effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and the accountability of the private sector, could not be reflected in this report, despite broad support from many Commissioners.

It did not include soda taxes in its tax recommendation:

Implement fiscal measures, including raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and consider evidence-based fiscal measures for other unhealthy products.

This omission is striking in view of WHO’s strong previous positions on the need to reduce NCDs as part of the agency’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and on reducing sugars and taxing sodas as a means to achieve those goals:

Again a US veto?  Recall the infamous incident in 2003 when the US blocked the agency from recommending a reduction in sugar intake.

The US should not be holding WHO hostage to public health measures.

WHO should not be caving in to US threats.

NCDs are the major cause of worldwide death and disability and we need worldwide efforts to prevent them.  This calls for cooperation, not blackmail.

Shame.

Jul 21 2017

Healthy Food America’s resources for advocates

Healthy Food America is relatively new on the food advocacy scene but I am always impressed by the useful resources it produces.

It is my go-to place for information about soda taxes and other ways to reduce sugars and sugary drinks.

It offers, for example:

Useful?  Yes!

Apr 20 2017

Berkeley soda tax continues to produce benefits

Evaluation of the effect of the Berkeley soda tax continues.  The latest results, published in PLoS Medicine, say that one year after implementation of the tax,

Prices of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) increased in many, but not all, settings

  • Sugary beverage sales declined by 9.6% in Berkeley stores
  • Untaxed beverages sales increased by 3.5% driven by bottled water (up 15.6%)
  • Average grocery bills did not increase
  • Store revenue did not fall more compared to control cities
  • Post-tax self-reported SSB intake did not change significantly compared to baseline

The evaluation was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies with support from the University of North Carolina’s Population Center and its National grant from the NIH.

The University sent out its own press release.

It also did a short video explaining what the tax is about and its effects.

Michael Jacobson of CSPI says

For Berkeley, Calif., to reduce soda sales by 10 percent—and to raise water sales by 16 percent—is a huge public-health victory.  It shows that the soda tax enacted in Berkeley is working as intended.  And rather than costing the city, the soda tax represents a brand-new revenue stream, which Berkeley is using for important health programs.  We hope voters and policymakers elsewhere in the country will review the findings published in PLoS Medicine and press for soda taxes in their communities.

This study won’t stop Big Soda from claiming that taxes don’t work.  But if soda taxes didn’t make a significant dent in soda consumption, the industry wouldn’t be fighting taxes so hard.

Helena Bottemiller Evich at Politico reports on the response to this study from the American Beverage Association (ABA), which I cannot find online.  The ABA:

pointed out that the reduction in sales of sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley yielded a reduction of only 6.4 calories per person, per day. The study also revealed, the group added, that the tax’s first year produced an increase of about 31 calories per person, per day from untaxed beverages. The study’s authors noted the increase appeared to be largely attributable to increased intake of milk and “other” beverages, like yogurt smoothies and milkshakes.

The ABA also argued that Berkeley — a relatively small city with a high median income that wasn’t a soda-consumption hotbed to begin with — is “a challenging place to determine the true impact of a beverage tax, unlike Philadelphia, where the tax has led to significant job losses and economic hardship for working families.”

“This study does, however, confirm that sales of taxed beverages inside the city declined while sales of those same beverages outside the city increased, which is also what is happening in Philadelphia,” the ABA said.

“America’s beverage companies know we must play a role in improving public health, which is why we are taking aggressive actions to help people reduce the sugar and calories they get from beverages,” the group continued, noting the industry has pledged to cut calories from its products across the board — with a special focus on reducing calorie consumption in a few places that have extremely high rates of obesity, including communities in Los Angeles, the Mississippi Delta and rural Alabama.

The soda tax story continues.  It is not over yet.  Stay tuned.

Here are some reports:

Apr 13 2017

Soda taxes are a movement!

The latest is Connecticut.

Here’s my list of taxes passed (!) and pending (?).  Have I missed any?  Please inform.

  • Navajo Nation (!)
  • Berkeley (!)
  • Albany, CA (!)
  • Oakland (!)
  • San Francisco (!)
  • Philadelphia (!!!) (sorry about forgetting it)
  • Boulder (!)
  • Chicago (!)
  • Santa Fe (?)
  • West Virginia (?)
  • Seattle (?)
  • Portland (?)

Healthy Food America has a handy map.

Addition: Bloomberg News has its own roundup