Philadelphia advances soda tax
With help from Jenny Hopkinson, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Catherine Boudreau and Jason Huffman
PHILADELPHIA ADVANCES SODA TAX: Philly made history Wednesday night as the city council advanced a proposal to tax sugary drinks to fund universal pre-K in the city — a measure that would make Philly the country’s first major U.S. city to impose such a sin tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Story Continued Below
The compromise tax rate advanced by the council (1.5 cents per ounce) came down considerably from the 3 cents per ounce rate mayor Jim Kenney proposed in March. But the proposal, which will also apply to diet drinks, is still being lauded by health groups as a monumental win, particularly after a contentious big-money debate. The proposal will bring in an estimated $91 million per year.
“The vote [Wednesday] in Philadelphia is perhaps the most important defeat for Big Soda since the adoption of a nationwide soda tax in Mexico,” said Michael Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
One more: The measure was cleared on voice vote by the Committee of the Whole, which is made up of the entire council, and will face one more vote before being final, though it appears the council is poised to seal the deal next Thursday.
The big question is whether Philly would open the floodgates for local governments looking for revenue. Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America, a Seattle-based health group that supports such taxes, said more locales are likely to follow: “Philadelphia is showing communities across the country that taxes on sugary drinks are a viable way to recoup industry profits for important community priorities, alert residents to health harms from excessive sugar and start to turn the tide against them.”
“No Philly Grocery Tax,” an oppo coalition of union interests, small businesses and industry sources, calls it a “discriminatory and regressive tax” that’ll “fall hardest on those who can least afford it, hurting families and small businesses.”
HAPPY THURSDAY, JUNE 9! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host is still cringing at this stinging WaPo review of Founding Farmers. You know the deal: thoughts, news, tips? Send them to email@example.com or @IanKullgren. Follow the team at @Morning_Ag.
CAN A NEW LABEL FUEL ORGANIC? The Organic Trade Association thinks it has a solution to supply shortages — and it’s a label: “USDA Certified Transitional.” OTA’s belief is the label will coax more farmers into switching to organic by attracting premium prices for their goods while they undergo the required three-year process to meet the Agriculture Department’s standards. But that’s only if the USDA gets on board — fast. In a story published today, Pro Ag’s Catherine Boudreau looks at OTA’s race to lock in a federally endorsed label before companies move forward with their own definition of transitional, a scenario the trade group says could lead to a patchwork of definitions, confusing consumers and jeopardizing the label’s integrity.
“You can imagine what would happen if there were all these different definitions of what transitional means, and we don’t want to see that happen,” said Nathaniel Lewis, senior crops and livestock specialist at OTA and co-chair of the task force leading the effort. “We want to carve out the standard at the USDA so there is an even playing field, and ensure it helps producers transition to organic.”
Market saturation: While those familiar with OTA’s proposal are confident it can increase the amount of land devoted to food raised without genetically engineered seeds, antibiotics and synthetic chemicals, some industry experts are skeptical a transitional label will be widely embraced by the food industry and consumers in a marketplace already saturated with claims like “Natural,” “non-GMO” and “Humanely Raised.” Full story for Pros here.
** A message from the Organic Trade Association: Producing food that meets the USDA organic label is a choice for farmers. And consumers want that label to mean something. That’s why Congress set up the National Organic Standards Board. They spent over a decade listening to views before recommending new organic animal welfare standards. Now, those standards are under attack. Learn more at www.ota.com/AnimalWelfare **
EU GLYPHOSATE MELTDOWN — HOW WE GOT HERE: The next time the European Commission gets a shot at renewing authorization of the pesticide glyphosate — the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup — is June 23, the same day the U.K. votes in the Brexit referendum. But the same stubborn opposition from many countries that’s stalled the renewal three times is not expected to change, and the most commonly used weed killer in the bloc could very well inch closer to its EU death, report Pro Ag’s Jenny Hopkinson and Pro EU Health’s Giulia Paravicini.
How did we get here? Advocacy groups seized on a routine World Health Organization report from last year connecting glyphosate to cancer, to inflame politicians. They generated outcry enough to prompt key players, including Germany and France, to back away from what the agriculture industry and the European Commission thought would be a no-hassle vote after food safety officials declared in November that the pesticide is safe for use across Europe, as it has been for decades.
“We hope that this situation of the glyphosate will be a type of learning case of the Commission,” European Crop Protection Association Director General Jean-Charles Bocquet said. “This one is the type of precedent on which we need to really build to avoid that in the future.” Pros can read the rest here.
GMO LABELING GROUPS TAKE MASS. STATE HOUSE: Pro-GMO labeling advocates in Massachusetts were at the state house on Wednesday, showcasing products major food companies, like Mars and PepsiCo, have labeled in advance of Vermont’s mandatory labeling law that takes effect July 1. They want Mass. legislators to pass something similar. A joint committee of the state legislature in March advanced a bill (H. 3242) to require foods with genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled; no House or state Senate vote has been scheduled.
“What’s clear from these examples is that the various arguments made by labeling opponents simply don’t hold water,” charged Deirdre Cummings, legislative director at Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. “A GMO label did not increase prices, food manufacturers did not refuse to distribute their product to VT, nor is the label inflammatory. These labels simply provide consumers with additional information, alongside other information … to make the food choices that are right for them.”
In Congress, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow met Tuesday and Wednesday to negotiate compromise GMO labeling legislation that would set a national standard. Stay tuned …
EGG FARM FIRES BACK: Hillandale Farms of Turner, Maine, says it’s investigating the abuses shown in an undercover video released by the Humane Society of the United States this week — and the worker who filmed it was sacked.
“We reviewed the video, and we are investigating the practices in the barns, where this footage may have been captured, to ensure this is addressed immediately,” a company statement said. “The worker who shot the video did not meet Hillandale’s standard of care and is no longer employed by us. … It is our practice that any mortality be removed from cages within a day.”
The video, released as part of the Humane Society’s campaign for a cage-free egg ballot measure in Massachusetts, shows hens crammed in tiny cages alongside bird corpses, some flattened and mummified.
The company shifted some blame to Austin “Jack” DeCoster, the facility owner. DeCoster and his son, Peter DeCoster, were sentenced to jail time for a 2010 salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds; Hillandale took over last year.
“When we took over management of the Maine farms last July, we were aware the barns were aging. Since then, we have invested in equipment and process upgrades to enhance our production operations, as well as expanded training for our team members,” the company says.
NOW ILLNESSES POSSIBLE: More than three dozen companies are involved in the recall of products linked to listeria contamination in sunflower seeds supplied by SunOpta Inc. No illnesses were reported at first — now that’s changed, according to a report Wednesday by Food Safety News. First Source, a Tonawanda, N.Y., company that packages and distributes candy and specialty foods nationwide for national brands like Ghirardelli, Godiva and Jelly Belly, as well as numerous store brands, said there are now two possible illnesses being investigated in a recent recall notice, FSN reported. SunOpta told FSN it has not confirmed any illnesses.
ONE BAD SEED: The new cartoon ad produced by the Clif Bar Family Foundation to promote organic seeds over the genetically engineered sort looks like it might be fun for kids to watch. Don’t let them. The ad’s main protagonist, “Mr. Seed,” uses salty language and makes some anatomical references (oh, now you’re interested?) to convey how six chemical companies control 63 percent of the U.S. seed market, which the foundation says has sapped nutrients from more than three dozen crops. Stand-up comic Pete Holmes is the voice of Mr. Seed. A facetious label warns the message “may be offensive to agrichemical execs.” Watch the ad here (headphones if you’re at work!).
A BIG HONEY POT: Consumption of sugar and caloric sweeteners has dropped off in the past 15 years, with one sticky exception: per capita consumption of honey has doubled since 1990, with Americans consuming an average of a pound each — a pound each! — in 2014, according to USDA numbers released Wednesday.
If you think that’s good news for U.S. honey producers, think again. Domestic production is sputtering, while imports have taken off since the ’90s. U.S. honey is down nearly a third — 107 million pounds per year compared to 168 million — while imports have increased threefold. USDA attributes the poor U.S. performance to challenges facing bee colonies. Read more here.
EUROPE’S HARDEST BISCUIT (YES, THAT’S A THING): Mix equal parts honey and flour, press the dough into a wooden mold and bake, and you’ve got yourself a couque de Dinant, the hardest biscuit in Europe. Jenny Hopkinson, who recently dubbed herself our team’s European snacks reporter, tried one of the cookies on a sojourn Saturday to Dinant, a small town wedged between the Meuse River and a cliff in the southern part of the French-speaking portion of Belgium. This snack is taken very seriously there, and she learned — the hard way — not to bite directly into one. According to Hopkinson’s limited understanding of French, reinforced by all-knowing Wikipedia, one eats a couque de Dinant in little pieces or soaked in coffee. They are also given to babies to help with teething. Totally normal. More on the biscuits here and here.
That’s right, MA’s Hopkinson is risking teeth to give you the most important food and ag news from Europe!
Shark Week … donuts: (How about that segue!) In the U.S., 7-Eleven has a new Shark-Week-themed donut. A “bloody” surprise awaits.
NOAA CELEBRATES 41st FISH FRY: Lawmakers, fishermen and fisheries policy leaders gathered in the Department of Commerce’s courtyard in Washington D.C. on Wednesday for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 41st annual Fish Fry, an event that draws several hundred folks and serves up seafood from all over the country.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) was in attendance, as were Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), David Jolley (R-Fla.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). As usual, the Makah Tribe’s black cod and the Bering Sea crab bisque were highlights. The Oregon Trawl Commission served up some delicious Petrale Sole Tacos along with Oregon Dungeness crab and shrimp cakes. Twitter pics here.
MA’s INSTANT OATS:
— A massive hydroponic farm will grow produce using fish waste in South Dakota, the Argus Leader reports.
— Celebrities are getting paid a ton to endorse unhealthy food, NPR reports.
— Tear peas, known as “green caviar,” are becoming a delicacy in Spain, The New York Times reports.
THAT’S ALL FOR MA! See you again soon! In the meantime, drop your host and the rest of the team a line: firstname.lastname@example.org and @ceboudreau;email@example.com and @jennyhops; firstname.lastname@example.org and@hbottemiller; email@example.com and @iankullgren;firstname.lastname@example.org and @mjkorade; and email@example.com and@jsonhuffman. You can also follow @POLITICOPro and @Morning_Ag on Twitter.
** A message from the Organic Trade Association: The Organic Trade Association supports the process to strengthen and improve organic animal welfare standards. That’s why organic farmers supported The National Organic Standards Board’s 2011 recommendation to USDA on proposed rules, which included standards for indoor and outdoor space requirements for organic poultry and livestock, and added definitions to which practices are allowed and prohibited under organic regulations. We are pleased to see that USDA has moved forward with rulemaking based on this recommendation, and OTA welcomes this opportunity to engage the organic community in establishing comprehensive animal welfare standards for organic. The Organic Trade Association opposes any amendment that might be considered during the floor debate on the Agriculture Appropriations bill that would impede the National Organic Program in finalizing and implementing its proposed rule on organic poultry and livestock practices. We urge Congress to oppose any such amendment. Learn more at http://ota.com/AnimalWelfare **