A conservative group called out the Coca-Cola Co. on Wednesday for lobbying to keep soda and candy eligible for purchase with food stamps, asking why the company expects taxpayers to pay for poor Americans’ unhealthy purchases from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
“It fights any restrictions to SNAP. That’s wrong,” said National Center for Public Policy Research Executive Director David Almasi, a Coca-Cola shareholder who planned to air his grievances about the company’s lobbying efforts at a stockholder meeting Wednesday.
“People who receive SNAP welfare assistance from the government should be spending it on bread, milk and ground beef rather than Mello Yello soda and Monster energy drinks,” Mr. Almasi said.
The food stamp program costs $80 billion a year, about $4 billion of which goes to soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
And profiting from the poor’s taxpayer-funded purchases has become big business for highly profitable companies, which have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep the money flowing freely, as The Washington Times reported last year.
Coca-Cola declined to comment, but the American Beverage Association said “the beverage industry consistently opposes taxes and regulations that single out soft drinks as a unique contributor to obesity and related health problems. No one food or beverage uniquely contributes to obesity.”
It said making determinations about which foods are healthy and which aren’t is a subjective judgment that would have to be carried out by an unwieldy bureaucracy — though critics point to the Women, Infants and Children program as a model of a simple way to deal with the problem, in which only a short “white-list” of specifically approved products are eligible.
“Too often lost in the debate about soft drinks is the fact that consumption of full-calorie soda has declined more than 12.5 percent over the past decade, and 45 percent of beverages sold are zero calorie,” the beverage association said.
An alliance between Democrats who want to preserve robust entitlement programs and lawmakers of both parties — but especially Republicans — who are reluctant to take on big businesses, including those who lobby and donate to campaigns, has solidified a seemingly entrenched drain on taxpayer dollars in the form of ever-growing food-stamp dollars going to junk food.
The National Association of Convenience Store Operators alone spends millions of dollars on lobbying yearly, including $1 million in the first quarter of 2012. Last year, 7-Eleven hired a former aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to lobby on “issues related to the general application and approval process for qualified establishments serving SNAP-eligible recipients.”
When a Florida state senator unsuccessfully moved to exclude soda from that state’s food stamp program, she said “the biggest opponents I have right now are Coca-Cola, the soda companies, the chip companies and the convenience store operators.”
Coca-Cola spent more than $5 million lobbying the federal government last year, and more than $9 million in 2009.