Regulating Soda Calories vs. Auto MPG

At the risk of inspiring Nanny Bloomberg to even more despotic fantasies, Hizzoner’s mistake in regulating soda was in not regulating beverage calories like the EPA regulates auto MPG.

New York Judge Milton Tingling struck down Bloomberg’s -ounce soda ban as arbitrary (banning restaurant sodas but leaving convenience store Big Gulps in place, for example) and outside the bounds of his executive reach. “We feel the justice’s decision was strong,” said a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, the chief plaintiff in the case.

But soda companies should be so lucky that the mayor’s edict targets consumer choice — not beverage makers. As a result, the beverage industry has consumer opinion behind it, with 60 percent of New Yorkers objecting to pols ordering their drink choices.

But imagine if the Bloombergs of the world went about this by regulating the beverage industry.

Under perverse government fuel laws, Washington forces auto companies to increase MPG by 40 percent to an average 35.5 MPG by 2015(and to 54.5 by 2025). The government doesn’t force customers to buy 35.5 MPG cars — it forces automakers to make them. The regulations are popular with the public (who doesn’t want more fuel efficiency?) while forcing carmakers to pay millions in lobbying fees in order to queer the rules lest they have nothing but Smart cars left to sell.

What if Coca Cola were forced to make every 16-ounce drink contain only 90 calories (a 50 percent decrease from the current 180)?

The law would surely be popular — customers don’t know soda formulas any more than they do engine technology — even as beverage companies understood that removing that much sugar would crater soda sales. But with public opinion against them, they would take the easy way out — just as auto companies have done. Beverage companies would hire lobbyists to negotiate loopholes and credits in the calorie mandate to ensure that popular, 180-calorie soda would still be sold.

Example? GM gets credit against the 35.5 MPG law by selling plug-in Chevy Volts — so that it can keep on selling popular, gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoes. Imagine similar soda regs where Coke Zero gives Coca Cola credits against the 90 calorie law — to keep selling popular, sugary Coke. And government would grow ever more powerful. And pols would get ever more lobbying money from Big Business.

Let’s just hope the nanny-staters don’t figure this one out.

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