American Beverage Association

April 9, 2009

About Kelly and Thomas…

It’s usually a tell-tale sign that when one person or group starts attacking someone, or in this case, something – there’s an ulterior motive. There’s something in it for them.

So it came as no surprise to us that a New England Journal of Medicine opinion piece advocating a soda tax is fraught with ulterior motives by the authors Kelly Brownell, of Yale University, and Thomas Frieden, the New York City Health Commissioner.

Let’s start with Kelly Brownell.

Fact 1: He makes his living by bashing food. It’s his profession. It’s the source of his income. It’s his bias. He’s published a book bashing food. He gives speeches bashing food. He operates the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which bashes food. He’s paid to bash food and bash it hard. Now, we’re sure Kelly is a nice guy, but he has a clear financial stake and motivation in bashing food.

Fact 2: He claims to be a scientist, yet science is supposed to objectively follow the facts where they lead. Kelly, however, picks-and-chooses particular data points and manipulates them to promote his agenda. Every single study he has published bashes food or industry in some fashion; just check out his own web site. No surprise here, though – see Fact 1. That he calls himself a scientist, however, is a stretch. Kelly is an activist. A well-paid activist. And that he has the gall to criticize any peer-reviewed, balanced science as “biased” due to industry funding is just plain hypocritical.

Fact 3: Kelly can’t make money or get books published or get support for his Rudd Center if he isn’t on TV or in the media or getting his buddies at science journals to provide a venue for his rants. So he attacks things and is provocative. The media, obviously, likes this – it’s conflict. And it’s much easier to get attention when you attack major brands, like soda, vs. the hundreds of other food items with calories or the sedentary lifestyle of children and adults.

Bottom line: It’s all about money. And Kelly wanting to make lots of it, along with a name for himself.

Yes, our industry is in the business of making money too. But we’re honest about it. And we won’t stay in business if we don’t provide quality products at fair prices, or deal honestly with our consumers.

Now, our friend Dr. Frieden:

Fact 1: He’s the NYC Health Commissioner and likes to get attention for himself too. He’s made a nice name by establishing himself as NYC’s self-declared chief of the food police. It gets him attention for reasons we elaborate on in the next fact.

Fact 2: He’s a politician with an agenda. Now we certainly don’t believe this is an inherently negative thing. In fact, we’re confident that Dr. Frieden is a well-intentioned public servant and good person. But political agendas are something that deserve due scrutiny by the public. On the flip side, politicians need attention for their agenda to remain relevant, not to mention themselves. By attacking food or industry, he gets attention for his agenda. Remember, the media loves conflict (especially in that big market of the Big Apple).

Fact 3: He needs money for his agenda. Taxpayer money. That’s how politicians finance their agendas. And like most governments, New York is facing a budget deficit and ongoing fiscal challenges that pinch the agendas of all government leaders in NYC (especially with a Mayor who pays great attention to fiscal prudence.) So their solution is often to tax something to get money for their agenda. The people of NY, and America for that matter, see an obesity tax proposal for what it is – a money grab. It’s one reason why they reject these taxes passionately. It’s one reason New Yorkers rebelled against their Governor’s proposed soda tax, forcing him to retract it. And it’s one reason why poll-after-poll of the public shows they don’t like taxes on soda — or any food or consumer good for that matter.

Bottom line: It’s all about money for government, too. They want more of yours because they keep spending what they’ve already taken from you at alarming rates. And the economy has finally caught up with them. So now some want consumers to bail them out by taxing their everyday goods and products. Thankfully, Mayor Bloomberg has rejected Dr. Frieden’s notion of a soda tax, according to the New York Times.

Now that you know more about Kelly Brownell and Thomas Frieden and what motivates them; here’s some closing thoughts:

• We don’t need government or self-indulgent activists telling folks what to eat or drink. That’s one of the ultimate invasions into personal choice and freedom.

• We don’t need government taking more of people’s hard-earned money and putting jobs at risk – especially in the middle of this economy.

• And we certainly don’t need activists making money for themselves by advocating the taking of more money from consumers through higher taxes.
Just a few facts to keep in mind the next time you hear or read something from Kelly or Thomas.

(Oh yeah – per this blog’s opening paragraph — our ulterior motives with this post are setting the record straight about our two critics and to defeat soft drink taxes. We believe they’re bad public policy, bad for consumers and bad for business. We lay out that case in this morning’s blog and previous Sip & Savor blog posts.)


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