Tony Smith, a Mississippi legislator and restaurant owner, wrote the "anti-Bloomberg" bill
Bill prohibits local jurisdictions from regulating food and drink; only state can do it
Smith says it will protect small businesses from hodgepodge of local overregulations
Free market should guide what's sold, he says; other measures can combat obesity
Editor’s Note: Tony Smith is the first Republican ever elected to Mississippi’s Senate District 47. He and his wife, Angie, are founders of Stonewall’s BBQ with locations in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia.
After learning what was going on across the nation in regulating food and drink, especially the edict by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg banning large sugary drinks, I could clearly see we needed a way to prevent government from placing additional regulation on small business owners in Mississippi.
A judge has invalidated Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks bigger than 16 ounces, which is a good move. But as a state legislator, and a restaurant owner, I wanted to prevent our industry from being regulated out of business. Working with trade organizations, I came up with what’s being called the “anti-Bloomberg” bill – Senate Bill 2687. It simply says that the Mississippi legislature retains the authority to make decisions about the regulation of food.
This bill has been passed overwhelmingly by both the state House and Senate, and we are expecting Gov. Phil Bryant to sign it.
It will prevent a hodgepodge of regulations put in force by various municipalities. Imagine owning a restaurant and, all of a sudden, your menu doesn’t meet regulations. An owner might have to restructure a menu and have new nutritional analyses conducted, which are very costly. Many men and women have worked long hard hours just to make a living, and adding additional regulations and costs could simply force them out of business.
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The free market should determine what a business chooses to sell. If the market demands healthier choices, then business owners will meet the need. A regulation banning you from selling a sugary drink larger than 16 ounces will not have any impact on obesity. If people want a bigger size, they can simply buy two or more.
Cities across the country are restricting consumers’ food choices in misguided attempts to battle obesity. The ideas for restrictions are endless: limiting the size of soft drinks, requiring calories to be posted, prohibiting toys in kids’ meals, prohibiting fast food restaurants in certain neighborhoods, and more.
In Mississippi, from the farm to the grocery, the convenience store to the restaurant, all food is already regulated to ensure safety by divisions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the state Department of Health and the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce.
The “anti-Bloomberg” bill simply assures consumers freedom of choice on what food and what size soft drinks they want to buy, and which restaurants they want to patronize.
To be clear, SB 2687 does not restrict debate on food policy as it relates to public health and welfare. By making sure the debate takes place at the state level and not at hundreds of local levels, we can prevent a patchwork of regulations that create an uneven playing field. Consistent and uniform application of food policy will actually benefit the public.
It also doesn’t change current law for restaurants that operate 20 or more franchises, such as McDonald’s, Hardee’s and Subway. Those will still be required to provide nutritional information to customers.
So what role can local government play? Consider these positive and proactive initiatives:
• Create community gardens to provide fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Help create more walking paths and bike trails.
• Work with school districts to mandate physical education.
• Promote local farmers markets.
• Expand or set up weight loss programs through local parks and recreation departments.
• Create educational programs using social media to educate young people.
Local government can and should play a large role in public health. Strategic initiatives focusing on incentives and promotions will have a positive effect on the community.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tony Smith.