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Food and Beverage Ban Debate Heats Up
70% of Wisconsinites say “Stop local regulations of what we eat and drink”

June 25, 2013

Madison – A new poll out today shows 70 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin support preventing local governments from banning large soft drinks or otherwise regulating high-calorie foods. When respondents were given more information about the measure, support jumped to 75 percent.

The measure is part of the state budget bill that awaits the signature of Gov. Scott Walker. The Governor has the line-item veto authority to remove individual provisions from the budget bill before he signs it, and groups on both sides of the issue have been lobbying his office heavily for the past two weeks.

“This budget provision will protect consumers’ right to choose what they eat, and prevent local governments from choosing for them,” said Pete Hanson, vice president of public affairs for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. “It’s a pretty basic question. Should Americans have the freedom to eat apple pie and drink a Coca Cola? We think so.”

Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, says that the additional regulatory burden on businesses would cost Wisconsin jobs. “Allowing local units of government to prohibit or mandate sales of food and beverage products will cost grocers and other retailers money to comply with their regulations,” Scholz said.

“This measure establishes uniformity in food and beverage regulations. Neither businesses, nor consumers, should have to deal with a patchwork of local regulations where certain menu items are banned or soda cups are required to be different sizes from one city to the next,” Scholz said.

Public health groups would like the ability to regulate high-calorie foods one city at a time, as a strategy for fighting obesity. On the other side, the food and beverage industry seeks to preserve consumers’ right to choose which foods they purchase from retailers, restaurants, movie theaters and others .

The food and beverage industry is already regulated by numerous agencies in the federal and state governments, including the FDA, USDA, state Dept. of Health Services and state Dept. of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection. Proponents of the measure say that local governments do not have the expertise to determine which foods are safe to eat, and that those decisions should be left to the experts at the USDA and other agencies.

Proponents also stress education as the key to changing consumers’ choices. “Taking away consumers’ choices one city at a time does not address the underlying problem,” said Hanson. “The only effective way to change consumers’ choices is to educate them on healthy lifestyles, including regular exercise and healthy dietary choices.”

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association commissioned the poll, with support from the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the National Association of Theatre Owners of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan, and the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association. The poll was conducted by Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies.

Click here for a summary of the findings

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