Saturday, June 2, 2012

Any Fizz in New York Soda Ban Plan?

Once again McDonald’s finds itself embroiled in a controversy. And yet again it concerns the issue of rising obesity in the U.S.

The world’s largest and popular fast food chain is up in arms against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to slap a large soda ban in the city. This would see large businesses prevented from selling sugar-filled sodas measuring more than 16 ounces.

This is Bloomberg’s latest salvo in the fight against obesity.

The outlet made its displeasure public in no uncertain terms. It tweeted its response to more than 470,000 of its followers!

Coca-Cola, the world’s largest soft-drink maker and the most to be affected by the proposed ban, joined in the criticism.

Experts fear that such a ban in New York could trigger similar actions in other cities across the U.S.

A large soda ban will certainly hit both businesses where it hurts most.

While McDonald’s is estimated to derive about 5 per cent of its U.S. sales from soft drinks, Coca-Cola stands to lose much more as it dominates the country’s soda fountains with a 70 per cent share of the market. (Fountain business accounts for about 24 per cent of the 9.3 billion cases of soda sold a year and the total market is worth about $75.7 billion).

Though Bloomberg may seem to have stirred a hornet’s nest, he seems to have been emboldened after prevailing in his earlier initiatives to improve public health, such as banning smoking in restaurants and requiring eateries to post calorie counts.

Over the years, numerous efforts have been made by health authorities in the U.S. to check the spread of obesity and especially to protect children from the harmful effects of addiction to fast food. At one stage, the fast-food chains were urged to voluntarily decrease the size of menu items given their effect on calorie intake and subsequent weight gain.

The response was not too heartening.

Despite McDonald’s efforts to reduce the size of its largest items, its current portions remain much larger than they were in 1955 when first introduced. Its largest soda was 7 oz compared to today’s 32 oz size, and 457 per cent larger! It phased out its 42 oz Supersize following the 2004 release of Super Size Me! which documented filmmaker Morgan’s Spurlock’s 25-pound weight gain from eating all McDonald’s meals for just a month!

Currently, McDonald’s offers four sizes of soft drinks. Two of these – the medium (21 ounces) and large (32 ounces) – are above Bloomberg's proposed threshold for allowable soda sizes.

Given the businesses’ aversion to self regulate – why would anyone want to slay the goose that lays the golden egg – it’s but only natural for authorities to step in and lay the ground rules in what should be a combined and coordinated effort to fight the scourge of the 21st century.

But, as critics point out, there are ways around Bloomberg’s proposed law. For instance,

* McDonald's offers free refills, meaning one can order a small soda and fill it up as many times as he or she pleases.

* A customer can also order more than one small drink and get the 32-plus ounces he or she desires.

All eyes are on June 12 when the proposal is submitted to the New York City Board of Health who will then have a three-month comment period and then vote on the proposal. If approve, the ban would take effect in March next year.

Watch this space!

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