Letter from Langdon: Sweet Cap-and-Trade

Sugar is leaving a heavy carbon footprint in human cells. How about applying cap-and-trade rules to companies that are shoveling sweeteners?

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My folks used to say the only people who don’t have problems are the ones in the cemetery. (Solving that one is definitely last on my list of chores.)

And no doubt about it, America has problems — banksters,  recession, and war. Besides these issues, many people think America’s biggest problems are climate change and healthcare, so when my dietician friend Julie wrote me about calorie offsets on unhealthy food, I thought she had found the answer to half our predicament.

Being the eternal optimist, my glass is always half full, that is unless it’s filled to the rim with soda pop, because America is the home of free refills. Our per capita consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and other sweetened snacks is up, up, up. We all know it’s true. We gulp twice a much sweet stuff as the average Earthling does. No other nation consumes more sugar than we do.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Pop has been part of my life ever since I got old enough to walk to the back of the Langdon store and pull an ice cold 7-Up from the cooler. But it’s been part of America’s culture much longer, ever since John Pemberton started selling a cocawine called French Wine Cola in 1885. Later on, when fears of drug addiction and prohibition restricted both cocaine and alcohol consumption, all that was left was carbonated water, caffeine, sugar, and the secret formula. That’s when Frank Mason Robinson thought up a catchy name, Coca-Cola.

I guess if he couldn’t add coca to the recipe, Frank figured putting it in the name was the next best thing.

Sweetened soft drinks make big profits for some and big health problems for many tens of thousands more.

Ever since then all the soft drink makers have made lots of soda and plenty of headway. Soft drink companies are among the most profitable corporations, spending billions on promotion. Today with the encouragement of Big Cola advertising, every man woman and child in the USA drinks on average at least 216 liters of soft drinks. Virtually all contain either sugar or artificial sweetener.

Most also contain phosphoric acid that erodes tooth enamel and may cause bone density loss. Phosphoric acid, by the way, works great in naval jelly for removing rust, and it’s a wonderful fertilizer for growing corn. Though it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of some health experts, it gives pop a zesty flavor. Used occasionally instead, citric acid does too. The citric acid used most as a food additive doesn’t come from citrus fruit though. It is fermented from mold grown on molasses.

Choosing between rust remover and fungal cane juice shines a completely different light on the pause that refreshes.

On top of that, most sweetened soda contains sodium benzoate, a preservative thought to cause hyperactivity in children and shown to damage DNA in yeast cells. (Yeast was used for research because yeast cells are similar to human cells.)

What can I say about such a recipe except, “Gotta have it!”

A chart showing the rates of sugar consumption and diabetes in member-nations of the OECD, Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.


Here, basically, is how the offsets would work: a cap, or limit, would be placed on the amount of sweeteners added to soft drinks and snack food. Anytime a food processor exceeded the cap, the company would have to pay a fee. Food and soft drink manufacturers could then decide whether or not they wanted to make less money, or healthier products.

There’s a big difference between sugar in its natural state, like a
sweet fresh peach, and its twice removed cousin, processed sugar. The
biggest difference is that Mother Nature sweetens the peach naturally
while Big Brother decides how much refined sweetener to add to the cola
and candy bars.
Levying fees against profitable bottlers is better than taxing consumers as the state of Illinois has done, mostly because the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) they have there on candy and soft drinks might simply coax low income people to buy cheaper sweet products, food and drinks even unhealthier than what they were consuming before. Remember generic cigarettes?

The purpose of calorie offsets isn’t to increase revenue (the government couldn’t possibly need more money) but to discourage people from consuming more sugar. Obesity is the main concern because it comes trailing a host of other problems, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Our awareness of the ill effects of smoking has encouraged increased taxes on tobacco products, but higher prices haven’t stopped a lot of people from using tobacco. That might be another reason for taxing the root of the problem  — food companies that promote unhealthy products — with calorie offsets instead of their victims as we have with tobacco.

Obesity rates across the U.S. (2006): Mississippians are the most overweight, Coloradoans the leanest.


Sugar-calorie offsets could be good for another reason, too. They would act something like carbon offsets do in the proposed energy/climate bill. After all, sugar is just carbon and water. Limiting carbon in the atmosphere is good for one reason, but limiting it in our bodies makes even more sense, and calorie offsets could help reduce obesity the same way carbon offsets would reduce energy apathy toward Big Oil Fat Cats.

It’s hard to say what reaction Americans would have to an idea like this; as a country we seem to worry more about what the government spends and does than what we get (or don’t get) in return. But hands-off government policies will only put our economy on Boot Hill. About the only hope we have now is to develop sound policies to resurrect our sick economy, and for everyone to stay healthy long enough to engage those policies with hard work.

If capping calories is successful, who knows? Maybe we’ll enact cap and trade on banksters next.

 

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