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Washington farm groups join bid to nip city food taxes

Beverage companies are leading and agricultural groups are joining a campaign to contain drink, food taxes to Seattle.
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on July 13, 2018 5:21AM

Beef cattle are herded together in southeast Washington. The Washington Cattlemen’s Association and other farm groups are endorsing a campaign led by beverage makers to bar cities from taxing food.

Don Jenkins/Capital Press

Beef cattle are herded together in southeast Washington. The Washington Cattlemen’s Association and other farm groups are endorsing a campaign led by beverage makers to bar cities from taxing food.

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Soft drink rivals Pepsi and Coke are partners in financing a ballot measure that would bar cities from taxing select foods, like Seattle has done with sweetened beverages.

Initiative I-1634 has the backing of several agricultural organizations, though no Washington city has followed Seattle’s example on soda or targeted other foods, such as beef or dairy products.

“We looked at this and said, ‘What’s the logical progression on food taxes?’ ” said Dan Wood, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation.

“It does not require a big imagination to think about the folks in Seattle deciding they want to put a tax on meat or milk or any other healthy agricultural product,” he said. “We need to get ahead of that and say, ‘It needs to stop.’ ”

I-1634 petitioners turned in about 360,000 signatures this week for the Secretary of State’s Office to check. It will take 259,622 signatures from registered voters to qualify I-1634 for the Nov. 6 election.

The beverage industry so for has spent $4.43 million to collect signatures and prepare for a media campaign, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. The Coca-Cola Company has contributed $2.2 million, and PepsiCo has put in $1.7 million. The Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and Red Bull North America are the other two major donors. The Washington Food Industry Association has contributed $20,000.

The beverage industry launched the campaign, but it hopes to expand its donor base, Yes to Affordable Groceries spokesman Jim Desler said. The campaign has endorsements from the Washington Farm Bureau, the Washington Cattle Cattlemen’s Association and the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, as well as the dairy federation and the Juice Products Association, a national trade association.

The organizers, confident the measure will qualify, held a conference call Monday to kick off the campaign.

Douglas County organic orchardist April Clayton, one of several speakers, cited recent opinion pieces in The New York Times that advocated a tax on beef to check climate change and a tax on “unhealthy foods” to curb obesity.

“The threat of food taxes is real,” Clayton said.

I-1634 would grandfather in Seattle’s 1.75 cent per once tax on drinks with sugar, honey and artificial sweeteners. The tax equals 21 cents on a 12-ounce can of soda and went into effect Jan. 1. The city collects the tax from beverage distributors, but presumably at least some of the tax falls to consumers.

“I think you have a real concern among people that this will expand to other places and other groceries as local governments look for revenue sources,” Desler said. “This is really a preventive measure to protect working families and small businesses.”

No group has yet filed to raise money to campaign against I-1634.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charity of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced this year it will spend more than $130 million to support policies such as raising taxes on sugary beverages and “junk food” and limiting the marketing of “unhealthy food and beverage.”



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