Activists Urge City Mayors to Turn Aside “Tainted” Philanthropic Grant for Obesity Initiatives

Cross-posted by Forbes.com on WLF Contributor site

From the “you just can’t please some people” files, an illustration from the world of the “food police”:

Back in June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) announced that a beverage trade association had made a three-year, three-million dollar grant to the Conference which would fund efforts in cities to target obesity.  Now that the dimmer shades of autumn have replaced the glow of summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is casting regrettable aspersions on this philanthropic act in a November 3 letter.  

The letter reflects concerns that WLF’s Cory Andrews raised in an October 21 WLF Legal Opinion Letter, “Voluntary” Food Marketing Limits: A Hazard To Philanthropy’s Health.  The draft “voluntary” food and beverage marketing principles promulgated by four federal agencies led by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) equated companies’ philanthropy to advance public health with “advertising.”  One provision of the report would prohibit such philanthropy if children would be beneficiaries.  Even though FTC is reportedly backing away from this, government’s endorsement of such an idea would, the paper noted, surely motivate similar activism from “public interest” groups.

And so it has.  CSPI doesn’t share the Conference of Mayors’ appreciation for such funding, especially, as the USCM release states, “at a time when communities are in need of additional funding.”  CSPI instead concludes that the funding is an outrageous, intentional attempt to stop cities from adopting “sugary-drink” taxes.  The letter dismisses the money as a pittance which will do little more than “distract mayors and municipalities” from policies soda companies have opposed.  The condescension goes on: “Dangerously, for small and mid-sized towns that win grants, the tiny awards will likely be sufficient to ensure that most, if not all” programs will fall into line with what “Big Soda” wants.

In addition to pounding the demonization drum against soda companies, CSPI has set USCM and its mayors up for undeserved charges of industry influence if cities make (in our opinion, the correct) policy choice of not imposing soda taxes.  Such taxes are an ineffective tool to curb obesity and will harm consumers, especially those in lower-income brackets, who choose to enjoy soda.

In the world of CSPI and other activists of their ilk, only government or perhaps foundations such as Robert Wood Johnson can fund anti-obesity programs.  Such a politically-correct litmus test for philanthropy is incredibly corrosive and contrary to finding solutions to America’s expanding waistline. Activists devote millions of their own charitable donations each year to encouraging “corporate social responsibility.”  But when businesses responsibly step up as part of the solution, the same activists label the money as “tainted.”

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