Would you rather sip on unpasteurized milk or a cold glass of soda? Do you prefer Saturday lunch at a fast food joint or a farmers market?
Regardless of your choices, your food freedom -- your right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods you want -- is under attack. Here are ten food freedom issues to keep an eye on in 2014.
1: FDA May Ban or Restrict a Growing Number of Food Ingredients. The FDA has proposed banning oils containing trans fats, an ingredient found in foods like coffee creamers and muffins. If you think that’s an overstep, consider that the agency is also likely to propose unprecedented new restrictions on food ingredients like sodium and caffeine in 2014.
2: Raw Milk Bans Drawing Fire. Unpasteurized (“raw”) milk is increasingly popular, but because consuming raw milk carries some risk, the FDA and some states ban its sale.
Yet the risks of drinking raw milk are similar to those posed by eating a medium-rare hamburger, spinach, cantaloupe or other foods that rightly warrant nothing more than a government warning sticker. Look for continued fights over overly strict raw milk regulations in 2014.
3: New York City’s Soda Ban Not Dead Yet. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ham-handed attempt to ban large sodas earned him scorn from Jon Stewart and the New York Times editorial board. It also forced a broad coalition of unions, soda makers, restaurants, and minority businesses to sue to overturn the ban. Nevertheless, Bloomberg’s successor Bill DeBlasio has vowed to forge ahead with the soda ban. After two stinging losses, the city has filed a last gasp court appeal that should be decided in 2014.
4: Farm Subsidies Will Prop Up Big Farms, Cost Taxpayers Billions. Farm subsidies administered by the USDA shift taxpayer money to mostly large, already profitable farmers so they can do things they’d already be doing (like, say, farming) or things that don’t make much sense (like planting more crops than consumers want to buy). That may or may not have been a good idea in the 1940s, when federal farm subsidies first arose, but it’s been nothing but a terrible boondoggle since.
Everyone knows this, and yet Congress will still pass a Farm Bill in 2014 that features some form of wasteful farm subsidies.
5: FDA’s Menu Labeling Rules Could Be a Colossal Mess. One underreported element of ObamaCare is that it requires the FDA to enact nationwide menu labeling rules. The rules would require many chain restaurants to provide calorie counts on most menu items, but what about pizza delivery chains like Domino’s which has 34 million different ways to order a pizza? What about grocery stores with a salad bar? Even as study after study shows that menu labeling is actually counterproductive, the FDA will have to answer these questions in 2014.
6: Some Cities Still Kicking Food Trucks to the Curb. 2013 was a pretty good year for food trucks around the country. Washington, D.C. opted not to crack down on its vibrant food truck scene, instead enacting new rules that appear to have brought some tasty peace to the nation’s capital. New Orleans did the same.
7. Soda Taxes Still Being Pushed in San Francisco. San Francisco has proposed a 2014 ballot measure to make its residents “healthier” by adding nearly $1.50 in taxes to the cost of a six-pack of soda.
Good idea? Hardly.
Research shows food sin taxes don’t work. So does real life. After Denmark implemented a series of food sin taxes, the country was forced to scrap the laws because they were bad for business, caused job losses and didn’t work.
8: Rise of Voluntary GMO Labeling. To borrow a phrase from prognosticator extraordinaire Nate Silver, the noise is that 90% of voters want the government to force GMO labeling on consumers. The signal—specifically from voters in California and Washington State, who’ve both rejected mandatory GMO labeling—is that Americans prefer a different approach. As we’ve seen with companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle, some restaurants and grocers are responding to demands from their own consumers that they label or move away from GMO foods on their own. Expect consumer choice on GMOs to continue to trump government mandates in 2014.
9: FDA’s Proposed Food Safety Rules Could Hurt Farmers, Raise Food Costs. Advocates for small farmers were up in arms in 2013 over proposed FDA food safety rules that could bury them in pointless, costly red tape. Even the FDA admitted the rules, which would cost nearly $1 billion each year, would only make food up to 5.7% safer. While the FDA recently scrapped the proposed rules and will go back to the drawing board in 2014, there’s no promising the next round of proposed rules will be any better.
10: Government to Consider Restrictions on Food Marketing to Kids (Again). Companies that advertise foods that parents buy for kids are often vilified by a segment of the public health community.
Food companies may indeed want kids to nag parents to buy their foods, but parents and guardians—not kids—determine what kids eat.
If you’re a parent and you (and Santa) didn’t buy Johnny or Susie all the toys they asked for at Christmastime, then you already know when, why, and how to say no to your kid. But that bit of common sense likely won’t stop the government from considering new food marketing restrictions in 2014.
Baylen J. Linnekin is the executive director of Keep Food Legal.