Beverage industry, NYC lawyers duel over drinks

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013
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The NAACP and the Hispanic Federation, an organization of 100 Northeastern groups, say their concern is that minority-owned delis and corner stores will end up at a disadvantage compared with grocery chains.

It's a complaint voiced behind deli counters in heavily Hispanic East Harlem, where managers such as Yolanda Peralta see the restriction as inequitable.

"We're paying taxes like every other store. ... We should have the same rights that everybody else," Peralta said Wednesday.

But others questioned the advocacy groups' links to the soda companies whose fight they've joined. Among the ties:

— Coca-Cola announced last month it was giving a $100,000 grant to the national NAACP to support a healthy-lifestyles program

— PepsiCo gave the group more than $10,000 in 2010, according to the soda maker's website.

— Former Hispanic Federation President Lillian Rodriguez Lopez left for a job at Coca-Cola in in February.

— The groups were represented Wednesday by a firm that also has represented Coca-Cola. The firm, King & Spalding, is representing the advocacy groups for free, lawyer Ann M. Cook said.

Given that obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, the NAACP should refuse soda makers' money and "reevaluate the position the group is taking in New York City," Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of the nutrition advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement Wednesday.

He and Stan Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, noted that tobacco companies' established relationship with African-American leadership organizations in decades past.

The strategy in the soda fight is "straight out of tobacco," Glantz said.

Hazel Dukes, the NAACP's New York president, bristled at the idea that the nearly 104-year-old group was swayed by the soda industry's support.

"No one buys the NAACP," she said in a telephone interview, noting that foundations also have contributed to the organization's obesity-fighting initiatives.

Soda makers' money "is not the issue here," she said. "The issue is fairness."

The Hispanic Federation's current president, Jose Calderon, didn't immediately return calls Tuesday and Wednesday.

Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc. declined to comment on Wednesday and Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. referred questions to the American Beverage Association.

The regulation's critics also argue that the first-of-its-kind restriction should have gone before the elected City Council instead of being approved by the Bloomberg-appointed Board of Health, a view echoed Wednesday by a lawyer for nine of the 51 council members. The city says the board of doctors and other health professionals had both the authority and expertise to make the decision.

During Bloomberg's 11-year tenure, the city also has made chain restaurants post calorie counts on their menus and barred artificial trans fats in French fries and other restaurant food.

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Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela, food industry writer Candice Choi and medical writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this report.

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Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz

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