Berkeley, Calif., voters gave a big win to a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas in the November 4 election. They approved the tax by a margin of three-to-one despite big spending by the beverage industry, which poured $2.1 million into an effort to defeat the tax. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported the Berkeley soda tax with a $650,000 contribution to help finance the ballot initiative. A soda tax was also on the ballot in San Francisco, where it passed by a majority, 54.5 percent, but this fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to approve the tax. The passage of the Berkeley soda tax is considered likely to spur other localities in California and the Pacific Northwest to impose similar soda taxes. In other food-related electoral news, efforts to require labeling of GMO foods were defeated in Oregon and Colorado after a campaign in which the food industry spent a reported $60 million to oppose the labeling initiative.
My take? I think a tax on sodas is a worthwhile experiment. We know that raising taxes on cigarettes has deterred use, especially among young people. Berkeley, Calif., has long been ahead of the curve on common-sense public health measures, such as smoke-free areas in bars and restaurants, so it isn't a big surprise that it took the lead here as well. However, I'm still not convinced a soda tax will pick up sufficient public and legislative backing to be enacted nationwide. As far as GMO labeling is concerned, I support it simply because I believe people have the right to know what their foods and supplements contain.