Via NPR, Massachusetts is the latest locality to consider a sugar tax in order to curb the high levels of consumption which are a leading cause of obesity. Once again, we have a local government taxing consumers to not eat or drink a product that is already artificially cheap because it has been subsidized into overproduction by the USDA.

There is a common theme which undergirds these fat and sugar taxes, the Happy Meal bans, and salt limits. I am beginning to view them all as local repudiation of the excesses caused by the federal cheap food policy. Commodity crops are the raw ingredients for the feed that grows the salty chicken nuggets, the fatty-fatty beef in the fast food burger, and the HFCS that goes into everything else. These are precisely the products targeted by state and local regulators because their consumption has been so often linked to obesity.

Local governments like New York San Francisco and Massachusetts have absolutely no control over the production spigot. The only thing they can do is swallow a spider to catch the fly, as the rhyme goes. Regulating local consumption within their jurisdiction is their only recourse against the torrent of cheap calories produced by federal subsidies.

This leaves public health advocates with the difficult task of convincing people not to eat the food we already paid farmers to overproduce. “Taxes!” is a facile argument and it is a far too local and ad hoc method of correcting a serious flaw in the food system. They should aim higher.

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