The Soda Ban Death:  No Limits On Consumption

There’s been a lot of national debate about soda and sugary drinks lately. Who should regulate the size of the drinks?  With the rise in health problems from sugary drinks, should the beverage industry list warnings? Who should be responsible to address the overconsumption of these beverages by many Americans?  A New York State Appeals Court ruled on June 24th that restaurants delis, and fast food franchises do not bear the responsibility to restrict consumers. Many may have raised a large glass of soda just to celebrate the ruling.

The 2012 proposal to limit the sales of “sugary drinks” met its death when it was struck down in New York State Appeals Court by Judge Eugene Pigott, Jr. The New York Times reported on the 4-2 ruling. Former Mayer Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the sales of large servings of sodas was deemed to be outside the scope of the Board of Health’s regulatory authority.  Sugary drinks are defined as beverages sweetened with sugar or other caloric sweetener and contain more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces.  The larger drinks (16 ounces and over) were the target of the proposed ban.

Health Concerns for the Nation

Many city officials in those in the health industry were disappointed in the ruling because of the continual rise in obesity and related health issues. Some in the legal field were disappointed as well. Judge Susan Read, held a dissenting opinion. She emphasized that the ruling ignored previous legal precedent in which the Health Department was given broad power to address public matters. Former mayor Bloomberg was quoted in National Restaurant Association as saying that “since New York City’s ground-breaking limit on the portion size of sugary beverages was prevented from going into effect on March 12th, more than 2,000 New Yorkers have died from the effects of diabetes.”

Individual Autonomy

However, Judge Pigott’s opinion stated that this ruling was different from previous ones in that the ban had strong potential to interfere with individual autonomy. It would also have likely had an economic impact on the restaurant and food service industry.

The restaurant and soft drink industries industry gave a sigh of relief after the ruling since this could have set legal precedent for city agencies in other jurisdictions to be empowered to regulate high-profile health initiatives.

The National Restaurant Association called the ruling “a victory for the city’s restaurants and suppliers.” It was seen as a major win for the thousands of restaurant operators and suppliers in the Big Apple, who would have suffered economic challenges had the ban been passed, reported Dawn Sweeny of the NRA.  The NRA joined with the American Beverage Association as petitioners challenging the ban in court. Sweeny believes the ruling will send a forceful message to other jurisdictions considering regulation food and beverage consumption.  As Rick Simpson of the New York State Restaurant Association said, “Let the consumer decide. We don’t need the government to dictate portion limits.”

There were jurisdictional quirks in the proposed ban.  Not all businesses selling food and drink would have been affected equally. It would have targeted restaurants, fast food franchises, delis, stadiums, street carts and movie theatres, but not convenience stores and groceries.

Others take it a step further, saying that violating our food freedoms also violates our constitutional and economical rights.

Food Freedoms

Keep Food Legal clarified that we should have protected “food freedoms” which are the citizens’ right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat or drink the foods we want.  In a recent report, The Attack on Food Freedom, by the Institute for Justice it was claimed that there is a constitutional history to food freedom and economic liberty and that regulations by elected officials, administrative agencies are impinging on constitutional rights and economic freedoms.

Other Means for Change

Though the health issues cannot be ignored, the means to bring change is debatable.   Many believe that such issues need to be addressed on a legislative level rather than giving that power to administrative agencies. Also, it will be important for restaurant owners and those in the food industry to take initiatives to support incentives for change regarding national obesity.

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