Big Business, Ballots, and not Backing Down

i_voted_wellness_warrior.jpgThis past Tuesday we kept our eye on four ballot initiatives that we thought would be powerful indicators of progress—or setbacks—in our food system: Colorado’s and Oregon’s respective  Prop. 105 and Measure 92 to label GMOs, and Berkeley’s and San Francisco’s respective measures D and E to tax sugary drinks. Like most things political, the actual outcome was not as starkly positive as we would have liked, but we are thrilled to report a lot of positive news!

With a 75-percent majority, Berkeley’s Measure D passed. The law, which levies a penny-per-ounce tax on each soda, will be the first of its kind in our nation, and it sends a big message to the soda industry—who shelled out millions to oppose it. Marion Nestle gives a great synopsis:

To the question, ‘will soda taxes reduce consumption?’ I would answer: the soda industry thinks so to the tune of $11 million in San Francisco and Berkeley.”

A hard-fought campaign by advocacy groups like Berkeley vs Big Soda and an over-half-million-dollar donation from former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped seal the deal. Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico points out that despite dismissive comments from the soda industry (“ ‘Berkeley is unlike the rest of the country,’ said Chris Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association”) health advocates are emboldened by this win. Sure, Berkeley is a particularly progressive city, but there is strong faith that it will embolden others to do the same:

Berkeley has adopted several policies that have not gone mainstream: The city provides free medical marijuana to low-income residents, is a ‘nuclear-free zone,’ and is reportedly looking at banning all drones from the city’s airspace. But the liberal enclave is also credited with spearheading the Free Speech student movement and leading the way on an array of issues, from civil rights to recycling.”

Measure D did not pass, though the vote was 55% to 44%. The San Francisco measure, which would have earmarked the tax to special health programs, required a ⅔ majority to pass. Joshua Sabatini of The Examiner and others saw the upside of this vote: 

Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the most outspoken supporters of the soda tax, looked at Tuesday election results in a positive light despite losing. ‘The soda industry got a double black eye today,’ Wiener said. ‘While we didn't get to 2/3, a majority of voters supported the soda tax despite $10 million in corporate spending against it. No city has ever even gotten close to a majority vote, and tonight Berkeley won in a landslide and San Francisco got a majority.’”

At one point after polls closed on Tuesday, Oregon Measure 92 looked too close to call. It ended up losing 50.7% to 49.3%. Colorado’s Proposition 105 lost by a larger margin, 66% to 34%. We must remember that public opinion was HEAVILY influenced by the almost $60 million that big agribusiness and Big Food spent on opposition campaigns.

A lesser watched initiative with perhaps more grassroots support was Maui’s ballot initiative to temporarily ban GMOs, which passed! Oppositional agribusinesses such as Dow and Monsanto emptied their coffers into their campaigns here as well, but ended up losing 52% to 48%. Anita Hofschneider of Honolulu Civil Beat reports:

Ashley Lukens, who directs the Hawaii chapter of the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit that has been lobbying for more regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), said Maui County residents deserve all the credit for the turnaround.

I think that this is a really strong message to the entire agrochemical industry in the state of Hawaii that we are no longer going to sit idly by and watch them expand their operations without the kinds of regulations that ensure the health and safety of people across Hawaii,” Lukens said.

We are encouraged by the very existence of these initiatives, encouraged even more by the slim margins within those that didn’t pass, and even heartened by the huge amount of money that Big Food companies spent to oppose these landmark ballot initiatives. Big companies are apprehensive, as America’s awareness about healthy, safe, equitable and sustainable food grows by the minute. We expect to see a lot more initiatives like these in the elections to come!

PHOTO: flickr

Sources:

Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

 

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