Columns

Food-Ban Bills Take a Bite out of Reason

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: February 13, 2012 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ
Does the Florida Legislature really want to set itself up as the state food police?

Curiously, it's done just that in a pair of bills now winding through committee, HB 1401 and SB 1658 -- both introduced by Republicans. If passed, these bills would prohibit food stamp recipients from buying all kinds of products with salt and sugar -- from pretzels and cupcakes to ice cream and soda.

Something's not right here. Aren't we the party of Lincoln? Don't we think twice, three times before we intrude in people's lives?

While it's tempting to use public assistance programs to attack childhood obesity, this is the state Legislature that back in the 1990s eliminated physical education in public schools. It has a lot to answer for, a lot of hypocrisy to put right.

It's also the state Legislature that voted in 1998 to let moms and dads decide whether to put their children in a charter school or in a local public school. Does it make sense that we can't trust the same parents to walk down a supermarket aisle and make the right choices to feed their families?

Scott Plakon

Rep. Scott Plakon

Bill sponsors Scott Plakon in the House and Ronda Storms in the Senate mean well. Half of their legislation deals with prohibiting the 93,000 recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from drawing cash from their EBT cards -- debit cards -- at casinos, Internet cafes, strip clubs and the like. That's a separate issue and no doubt it's worthy of addressing. The Department of Children and Families claims the average family gets $240 a month for about five months under TANF.

But food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is entirely different. SNAP is federal. Some 3.3 million Floridians have a SNAP card.

Think of that for a moment. Imagine what a horror story this legislation would morph into for Florida supermarkets -- in fact, for anyone who sells snack foods or food containing sugar. A customer -- statistically, we're talking about one in every six customers -- pulls out her SNAP card at the checkout counter and the nightmare begins. What qualifies and what doesn't?

Ronda Storms

Sen. Ronda Storms

No wonder the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Beverage Association are both opposed to these bills.

Then there are the feds. Being federal, SNAP comes with an administration rule book the size of the Manhattan telephone directory. The program is carved in stone. In its 48-year history, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has never waived its food stamp regulations for any state. Trust me, the USDA is entirely unlikely to grant a waiver to Florida so that it can redefine eligible foods. No waiver, no food policing for the poor.

So let's summarize what we've got with the food-half of the Storms-Plakon bills:

  • Buttinski-ism -- unattractive and should be among us Repubs.
  • Nervous breakdowns and utter chaos for the retail food industry.
  • Not a shred of hope of a waiver from the feds

As written, these bills are doomed.

Don't think it's only liberals who look at this legislation and hold their nose. Here's what Dana Young, R-Tampa, had to say about HB 1401: "I don't want people telling me what to eat and I don't think it's right for us as a government -- even if they happen to be poor. Even if they happen to be on food stamps."

Look for an amendment to remove the food portion of Plakon's bill during Monday's 1:45 p.m. House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. While Plakon may be ready to give up the untenable, Storms' SB 1658 in the Senate so far is staying where it is and as it is. Storms proudly described her bill to Nick Cuveto of Fox Business Network by the nickname "No Twinkie Left Behind."

It's certainly true, childhood obesity is a deadly serious and growing problem in Florida, and I admire Plakon and Storms for bringing the issue to the fore.

But don't you think the cause might better be served first with a statewide conversation on the subject, rather than on imposing some kind of food ban?

A better move for Storms and Plakon would have been to establish a Blue Ribbon Panel on Childhood Obesity in Florida.

Let's gather studies on foods that most contribute to obesity. Let's talk about the big sinner, high fructose corn syrup. We can find out what we were eating 30 years ago, what was in it and why children escaped obesity.

Let's talk about building all new schools on at least two levels, requiring children to climb stairs as a matter of routine.

Let's talk about reintroducing physical education in the public school curriculum, discuss what it would take to keep gymnasiums open after school and allow students to use high school tracks and athletic fields in the summer.

Florida could set goals, create an aggressive plan of attack and be a true national leader in the prevention of childhood obesity. Let's dump the food-ban bill first, then begin the conversation as we should have in the first place.



Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.





Comments (6)

debca
12:10PM FEB 14TH 2012
To all those who rant on about your adversity to helping those less fortunate receiving help from those of us who are lucky enough to still have our jobs, who are manageing in this declined economy to put food in our children's tummies every day, who grew up with parents who were able to give us a chance at a decent educ, and a decent shot at life: may you never feel the pang of hunger because you don't have enough food, may you never suffer from lack of physical or mental health care, may you never have to watch you children go hungry and not be able to do a thing about it, and if you or someone you love fall into those misfortunes, may other's have more compassion for you then you show for others.
Robert Lloyd
9:59AM FEB 13TH 2012
This is garbage journalism. The whole system is corrupt, so why argue the little things? Why not state the obvious... welfare is merely 'watering the weeds.' It is why this whole mess is out of control.

Just watch what the next generation and the next one after that will have to go up against.
But this female 'journalist' argues the trivial.
shauna
10:52AM FEB 14TH 2012
No welfare for any American, is that what you're saying, Robert? What kind of a sick puppy are you? Bet you're also one of the Americans who insist this nation was built on the principles of Jesus Christ. Yet you live devoid of human compassion. No! Not devoid! You actually preach AGAINST compassion! I'm sorry for your wife, family, neighbors and the poor pastor who has to pretend you're part of his flock.
Andrew Nappi
6:32PM FEB 13TH 2012
I agree with Robert. This is trivial. The proper place to start is the lack of authority for the general government to confiscate our income to create programs to feed and house people. If Mr. Plakon and Ms. Storms truly want to pass legislation that will benefit Floridians to the tune hundreds of millions of dollars, they should begin by passing bills of nullification against all federal govt over reach in Florida. Accepting a vast national government as imperial ruler is the complete opposite of the federalism intended by the Framers and Ratifiers. The opportunity existed this session with the Intrastate Commerce Act- missed! A chance to create jobs and add liberty to Florida not even discussed (SB814).
The author is correct that federal programs come with rule books and strings- the ovewhelming majority of which have no basis in the constitution. The day our legislature starts moving against these will be a real man bites dog event. I hope the author of this story will cover that as well.
Ted
9:24AM FEB 13TH 2012
As a REpublican, I have to take Rep. Storms and Plakon to task for putting forth a bill that apparently was written by Michelle Obama and has no chance in hell of being implementable. Shame on the both of you. This is the stupidest move of the legislature since the Primary Commission.
LDouglas
8:05AM FEB 13TH 2012
"....pulls out her SNAP card at the checkout counter and the nightmare begins."

That's true Ms. Smith. I hadn't thought of that but it reminds me of when I was behind a young mother once with WIC. She had like an ounce too much of some fruit or vegetable, and couldn't buy two of something else, but could buy two of another thing. Then it all had to add up to a certain price and she wasn't allowed to pay any extra out of pocket. (Even though she was making an additional purchase.)

Anyway, I don't like the idea of subsizing someone's ill health but think you made a good case that we could address obesity and ill health in other ways.

I'll add one of my favorite ideas for helping people make better choices- a stoplight symbol on the front packages of processed foods. Red light means stop and think before buying that food and check the nutrition label. (Too much sugar, salt, or unhealthy fats). Yellow, would mean eat with caution/reserve. Green would mean it's healthy- or at least not unhealthy.

It would be a one time hassle for food manufacturers but worth it IMO.

Leave a Comment on This Story

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.