New York mayor moves to ban sugary drinks, California cracks down on foie gras

Sweet and savory foods and drinks are under siege across the country

And cue the Anthony Bourdain rant … now. As he likely would say, “the battle between the forces of good and evil” currently is being waged on two fronts, with billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launching a salvo at the beverage industry and the state of California just a month shy of its impending ban on foie gras. The troops have been marshaled, and the fervor on both sides is palpable.

So what’s the deal?

In New York, reports surfaced last night that the city is working to enact a rather far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas, delis and street carts. Over the years, the Bloomberg administration has been aggressively pursuing regulations that promote public health by banning smoking in restaurants and parks; prohibiting trans fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease, in restaurant foods; and requiring restaurants to post calorie counts next to food item prices and health inspection grades to be posted in windows.

Now, under the new proposed ban, nearly every type of sugary drink would be affected, including coffees, energy drinks and pre-sweetened iced teas. Diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks such as milkshakes or malts or alcoholic beverages would not be affected.

If enacted, drink sellers would not be allowed to sell any cup or bottle of sweetened beverage larger than 16 fluid ounces, which is about the size of a medium coffee and less than the common plastic soda bottle. Such a ban would be a first across the nation, and would take effect in March 2013.

The New York Times reports that more than half of New York's adults are obese or overweight, and the city says more than 30 percent of its citizens drink at least one sweetened beverage daily.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Bloomberg said in an interview yesterday, according to the Times. “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

But apparently not all of the city’s public is in favor of such a drastic move to allegedly improve their personal well-being.

“The New York City Health Department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top,” a spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association said in a statement yesterday, according to the Times. “The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates. It’s time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity.”

Further vitriol came from New Yorker Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the non-profit think tank National Center for Public Policy Research who also railed against Manhattan’s attempt to ban “pink slime” back in April.

"Banning large size sodas has no basis in science, limits freedom and leads us away from facing the real problem of obesity in a serious, fact-based manner," Stier said in a statement. "Drinking too much soda is a bad idea. But the Mayor's Nanny State approach will do little to curb the problem and will do plenty to alienate the very people we need to work with—not against—the people who consumer too many calories from a variety of sources."

Fowl practice

On the other coast, California has feathers ruffled over the foie gras ban that’s set to take effect in July. Foie gras, which is fatty goose or duck liver that may taste great depending on your palate, involves the force-feeding of the bird and has been at the heart of many dining controversies for years.

Enacted in 2004 and set to become effective July 1, sections 25980-25984 of the California Health and Safety Code prohibit the “force feed[ing of] a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size,” as well as the sale of any products that result from the process.

In response to the impending law, California chefs are battling back and heaping the delicacy on their menus in advance of the ban. To avoid protesters, many of these chefs are keeping the locations of their dinners secret. And as the supply is about to dry up, prices are going through the roof. The fatty liver is now selling for about $60 per pound.

"The price has doubled. People are finding it hard to get it because the demand is so high," said Tracy Lee of the San Jose-based traveling dining service Dishcrawl, which has organized a series of 15 secret, sold-out foie gras dinners, the Huffington Post reports.

While California is set to be the first state to ban the controversial offal, other U.S. cities already have dealt with the issue.

In January 2008, the San Diego City Council unanimously passed a resolution that "commends the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) for raising awareness of the cruel practice of force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras, commends the many San Diego restaurants that have stopped selling foie gras before the California statewide ban goes into effect, and encourages San Diegans to avoid supporting this extreme form of animal cruelty."

But perhaps the most notable squabble over foie gras occurred six years ago in Chicago, when the city council voted to ban its sale. At the time, as in California, many Chicago chefs took to arms with spatulas and knives and conjured up all sorts of creative ways to skirt the ban, or just outright violate it in the case of iconic Chicago sausage superstore seller Hot Doug’s.

In December 2006, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley spoke out on the dispute, calling it “the silliest law” the city council ever passed, and in May 2008, the city council repealed the ban.

For more on New York’s proposed ban on sugary drinks, read the New York Times.

To learn more about California’s foie gras fracas, read the Huffington Post.

And for more from InsideCounsel on similar food fights, including the McDonald’s Happy Meal lawsuit, read:

Class Action Lawsuit Against McDonald's Attacks Marketing to Children

Judge throws out Happy Meal lawsuit

No new name for high fructose corn syrup

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