From the 1880s to the 1980s, “the Cola Wars” meant Coke v. Pepsi in a celebrity-studded advertising battle for consumers’ dollars. Now it's big soda battling states and countries who want to reduce consumption–and ultimately, their health care bills–by taxing the sugary stuff.
“There are a lot of contributors to obesity and diabetes—not just soda—but it’s low-hanging fruit because there’s no other [nutritional] value,” Mats Junek, regional director of the Americas at NCDFREE, an Australian-based group that advocates for solutions to non-communicable diseases, tells The Plate.
Results are starting to trickle in. Mexico, which has the highest obesity rates in the world, passed a soda tax in 2013. Along with educational programs, the tax is credited with a 12 percent reduction in consumption (see How the Soda Tax Hits Home). This year, Belgium, Hungary, Finland, France, Chile, the UK, South Africa, and several U.S. states took action to tax sugary drinks. Science continues to show that overconsumption of sugar leads to health problems, including lower fertility, notes Alessandro DeMaio of the World Health Organization.
But sugar is not going down without a fight: this month, a study questions whether the daily limit set by the U.S. government (10 percent of our daily calories, or less than one can of soda) is justified. Marion Nestle, New York University nutrition professor, doesn’t put much stock in the results, noting that the study was funded by the food and beverage industry.
"This is a classic example of industry-funded research aimed at one purpose and one purpose only: to cast doubt on the science linking diets high in sugars to poor health," Nestle tells NPR.
The battle over sugary soda is just one of five food trends we’re predicting will be big in 2017. Here are the others:
Consumers, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, are more focused than ever on what they eat. The idea that some of our food is genetically modified, and we don’t know about it, has become a rallying cry for more information on labels at the least (see GMOs: Is Just Any Label Enough?), and outright bans on GMOs at the most (see What Would a World Without GMOs Look Like?)
Vermont passed a labeling law this year, and it's being watched closely by other states and countries eager to enter the arena. Arguments over GMOs will continue, despite evidence pointing to their safety.
As consumers demand more information about what’s in their food, they also want to know more about how it’s produced: how much water and land is used, and how much is thrown away.
Food waste has moved away from being a niche issue, thanks in part to the efforts of National Geographic Emerging Explorer Tristram Stuart to show people how to use what would otherwise be thrown away (see How Ugly Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger), and the marketing skills of Selina Juul (see Denmark Capitalizes on Culture to Stop Food Waste). The EU and the U.S. have both set goals for reducing waste in the future, and there are several global awareness campaigns focusing on the role of developing countries, too.
In 2017, advocates will continue searching for the Holy Grail: a way to make reducing food waste as automatic as recycling is in many places now.
Technology has long partnered with the food industry to make more food more quickly and improve shelf life. Technology is also working to solve problems of sustainability and nutrition, even if the vast majority of people in the world are not necessarily tuned in.
“We want to use less carbon and create products that are better for animals. But we don’t necessarily need the mom who buys it to know it. We just need it to be affordable and taste good,” Josh Tetrick, CEO of Hampton Creek, told a California Food and Environmental Reporting technology conference audience in October.
The quest for a meatless burger that actually tastes good continues, with the latest effort by Impossible Foods, a “bleeding” veggie burger, selling out in Whole Foods in minutes this fall.
And efforts to improve meat production that protects animal and human welfare in the process continue to grow, as do ways to make the most nutritious food possible grow anywhere, anytime (see This Ag Innovator Wants to Find Your Broccoli by IP Address).
Technology can even help with the hassles of grocery shopping. Who is not excited about Amazon Go, the new grocery store concept where you choose items and leave without waiting in line to pay, set to open at least one location in 2017?
The Trump Effect
The wild card now will be whether U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump will make good on his campaign rhetoric. He has no love for the Environmental Protection Agency, saying he wants to elimate the Clean Power Plan. He's criticized the Food and Drug Administration for overzealousness in food safety regulation and dubbed it the FDA Food Police. He’s not a fan of the United Nations efforts to set global climate change goals, and he’s been extremely clear on how he feels about illegal immigrants, many of whom provide critical agricultural labor. Also, Trump has nominated a fast food magnate to the Department of Labor who has said that raising the minimum wage over $15 would lead to job loss.