The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Phone: 202-332-9110

USDA Urged to Reverse Bush-Era Gag Rule that Prevented Criticism of Soda

Bush Administration Blocked States from Using FederalFunds to Discourage Soda Consumption


Bush-era rules at the U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibit states
from using federal nutrition education funds for discouraging soda
consumption, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest is urging Secretary Tom Vilsack
to reverse them. The Bush Administration's policy was adopted shortly
after the soft drink industry complained to state officials running campaigns that urged consumers to cut back on soft drinks, according to CSPI, and is out of sync with the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

drinks are the only food or beverage directly linked to obesity," said
CSPI legal affairs director Bruce Silverglade. "Yet under the Bush
Administration, USDA gagged state health officials and blocked
important nutrition education efforts. We hope the Obama Administration
will quickly reverse course and instead actively support state
campaigns aimed at reducing soda consumption and obesity"

The policy has its roots in a 2003 USDA memorandum
prohibiting the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds
for disparaging or criticizing any food, issued after the state of
Maine ran an ad campaign encouraging people to cut back on soda. In
March 2009, the USDA restated the gag rule in a guidance document for state health officials.

2008, USDA told California officials the state could not use federal
funds to run a "Soda-Free Summer" campaign. To obtain funding,
California had to change the campaign motto to the milder "Rethink your
Drink." Just last month USDA's western regional office objected to the
state's "Be Sugar Savvy & Soda Free Summer Campaign." That campaign
is not even funded with federal funds, but regional USDA officials
believed it was "disparaging" to soft drinks and objected because they
feared it might appear to be funded by the federal government. USDA
blocked similar campaigns conducted by the state of Wyoming.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published jointly
by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, advises people
to "choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or
caloric sweeteners," and USDA's Food Guide recommends that people who
consume a reasonable amount of fat and calories to consume no more than
8 teaspoons of added sugars a day-- which is less than the amount of
sugar found in a typical 12 ounce can of soda.

"This is just a matter of permitting states to run
nutrition education programs that are consistent with the federal
government's own dietary advice, so this should really be a
no-brainer," stated Ilene Ringel Heller, CSPI senior attorney.

Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.