Friday, September 18, 2009

High Fructose Corn Shit-faced Lies

Out of nowhere (to me at least), there's talk of a tax being levied on soft drinks to help pay for the health care bill. The NYT reported yesterday that the Obama administration is consider a bill to add a 50% tax to non-diet sodas, which has provoked outrage among... groups funded by the corn syrup lobby, it would appear. Americans Against Food Taxes is, per its mission statement on, "a coalition of concerned citizens opposed to the Government’s proposed tax hike on food and beverages, including soda, juice drinks, and flavored milks," which just happens to include the support of every major soda bottler in the U.S. Here's one of their ads:

Now, there's something to take immediate issue with here: that the tax "might not mean much" to "Washington," whoever that is. Actually, it would mean a whole hell of a lot, because Americans drink a lot of soda—the NYT article puts the figure at more than $14 billion per year. The flawed premise of "her" argument — that is, the argument of the soda companies — is that the cost of soda and other corn-syrup flavored beverages (despite the NYT's repeated use of the term "sugary," it's misleading) is at a fair price right now, all things considered. And, just like a large number of the foods we eat, it's not. From the number of man-hours it took to produce the corn that created the corn syrup (for which family farmers are paid piddling amounts, thanks to government intervention in the corn market) to the, ahem, back-end costs related to obesity, soda is already subsidized to a large degree. That is, it's really cheap to buy when it costs us a lot, and you can see the results of that money gap is taken out on the family farmer and, well, you, in your arteries. The proposed soda tax would merely take a step toward correcting this imbalance, and would, in effect, restore a free market balance to the equation by making the transaction better for everyone involved. The system, as it's set up now, screws some people in a decidedly un-American way so that you can pay 75 cents for soda. We can and do tax cigarettes and alcohol, so the argument that it's your God- or Consitution-given right to buy soda for below market value is false. Worse, it's plain ignorant.

Naturally, this scares the piss out of the soda bottlers, who have been launching a full-fledged defense of High Fructuse Corn Syrup since before the tax was even proposed. Here's a commercial I saw about a year ago:

Obviously this gal doesn't have the internet, where she could have read about the very real concerns over HFCS at length. But the kicker is the last line: it's fine in "moderation." Well, that's wonderful news, which puts it in the same class as everything except, oh, cyanide. How about not in moderation, which is how you would expect something priced below market price to be consumed in a free-market society? The American consumer is smart enough to find a bargain, and the corn lobby is smart enough to spend a portion of their ridiculous profits on retaining their market share. But it doesn't take a genius to know that if we're saving money and they're making money, someone is losing it. This tax wouldn't "punish" casual soda-consumers; it would help those that are already hurt by its consumption and production. To use the corn lobby's own words, those already enjoying soda in "moderation" would not be hurt by this tax—one suspects that if they were casual consumers, they could shift their purchases over to diet soda without being too affected. If they weren't enjoying soda in moderation, this would lead to healthier consumption patterns, like NYC's smoking ban did for smokers, and the tax dollars raised will go toward filling the dollar gap in the anti-free market production chain. I would argue that the net effect of a soda tax would merely counterbalance the effect that corn subsidies have wrought on the corn industry, and lead to government's having less control over what's bought and sold in the stores — as it stands now, consumers are directed to soda because it is unnaturally cheap.

It's not just soda, either, that has bottomed out in price because of corn excess. The same is true for meat and poultry. Cows are fed corn despite having stomachs that aren't naturally able to process it, and are put on a large dose of antibiotics to keep them from dying. The result is meat that contributes to heart diseaese for humans; but, of course, the meat is cheap because it's cheap to feed the cows. (Read more here). Of course, this meat would be safe in moderation, like the popsicle and soda above. Does this mean I think the price of meat should go up? Hell yes I do. I think the actual market price for meat is higher than we're paying, only the costs are hidden, and they're largely the same costs as soda production: the massacre of the family farm, health costs on the back end—plus, factory farms have the added bonus of below-minimum wage-paying, exceedingly dangerous jobs. Is someone paying that gap between the market price and what we're paying? You're damn right they are.

That's why I support the soda tax, completely independent of the $14 billion it would be estimated to earn for obesity awareness, prevention, and treatment. The things we do cost money, and we need to be aware of the actual consequences of our decisions. Right now, with HFCS-sweetened drinks, we're not. By levying a tax on things that are priced below market value, we'll make people realize what they're actually buying, and move toward making soda purchases work for everybody. Restoring market prices, and giving consumers a true view of the costs of the things they buy, isn't un-American—it's about as fundamentally American as it gets.


Chris said...

Why hasn't coke come out with Coke that is created with fair trade and organically grown sugar?

Moacir said...

The tax is like a check on isolationism. I love it. Here, Coke (including diet) is so expensive, I don't see myself drinking it like nearly ever.

A 25 cL bottle will run you 2eur in the M├ętro. $3 for some 10 ounces. Generally in stores I never see a 25 cL can for < .80eur.

Moacir said...

wiat, I think it's the 50 cL. So $3 for about 18 oz. Ballpark prices

Catherine said...

I hope soda company will do that. They already know that fructose is bad to our health but why they are not doing something to correct their mistake.