Coca-Cola to Face Criticism for Food Stamp Lobbying
by Judy Kent
Atlanta, GA/Washington, DC - At the annual meeting of Coca Cola shareholders in Atlanta, National Center for Public Policy Research Executive Director David Almasi plans to criticize the soda giant's CEO, Muhtar Kent, over his company's efforts to keep the federal dollars for soda flowing at the expense of American taxpayers.
Currently, the federal Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which administers financial assistance to needy Americans, only restricts the purchase of alcohol and tobacco. Coca-Cola has consistently fought legislative efforts to restrict federal welfare funds to healthy foods and drinks.
American taxpayers subsidize the purchase of about $4 billion worth of soda products annually.
"I'm all for freedom of choice and respecting peoples' personal decisions, but Coke lobbying for its share of food stamp money is above and beyond altruism," said Almasi. "While publicly promoting so-called 'sustainability' by hyping good nutrition and active lifestyles, Coca Cola lobbyists are quietly seeking to ensure that American taxpayers subsidize the company's high-calorie, sugary beverages. Both political parties carp about cutting the budget and fixing the deficit. How about stopping this virtual river of soda being paid for with our tax dollars?"
Coca-Cola produces several lines of healthy beverages, including Minute Maid juices, "light" juices, Odwalla beverages and Simply Orange unsweetened juice. The National Center considers the purchase of these beverages an appropriate use of SNAP funds.
In January of 2012, Coca-Cola lobbied against a bill in Florida that would have added soda, among other items, to the list of SNAP's prohibited items. In an interview with Fox News, the bill's sponsor, State Senator Ronda Storms (R-Valrico), said "[t]he biggest opponents I have right now are Coca-Cola, the soda companies, the chip companies and the convenience store operators." Coca-Cola also fought a similar effort by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban the use of food stamps on "sugar-sweetened beverages."
"In a free marketplace, folks should be able to purchase what they want. That is why Coca-Cola was right to fight New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to ban large beverages, but wrong when it fought his efforts to limit SNAP funds to healthier items," said National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq. "SNAP money does not operate in a free market. It is taken from folks' paychecks. It is reasonable to limit how those benefits are administered and for what items."
"A record 47 million Americans received food stamp benefits in December 2012. Most people consider that a tragedy," said Danhof. "Shamefully, Coca Cola executives see this as a business opportunity."
"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," said Almasi. "Coke sells a number of healthy drinks such as water and fruit juice, yet it fights any restrictions to SNAP. That's wrong."
A copy of Almasi's question at the shareholder meeting, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
Both the National Center for Public Policy Research and David Almasi are Coca-Cola shareholders.