Rybak, U.S. mayors: Food stamps shouldn't be used for sugary drinks

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In an effort to combat obesity, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and mayors from 17 other cities across the country are pushing to restrict food stamp recipients from using the assistance to purchase soft drinks and other sugary drinks.

The mayors says the ban on sugar-laden beverages will strengthen the food stamp program and promote good nutrition, according to a letter sent to congressional leaders Tuesday, KSTP reports.

Tim Wilkins, president of the Minnesota Beverage Association tells WCCO that soda pop is being unfairly targeted.

"A calorie is a calorie, whether it’s food or in liquid form, in fact most of the calories we ingest is through the food we eat, the vast majority,” Wilkins said.

The Associated Press says similar proposals to stop the use of food stamps to buy soda, candy and other items seen as unhealthy have been floated for decades. Opponents say the restrictions would be paternalistic.

A bill making its way through the Wisconsin Legislature limits the amount of junk food a person could by with food stamps.

The measure would require people enrolled in Wisconsin's FoodShare program to spend at least two-thirds of their monthly benefits on designated items such as milk, bread and vegetables–foods state officials have defined as “healthy.”

The state Assembly approved the bill in May, but it hasn't moved past a Senate committee.

It's unlikely the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which largely funds nutrition assistance programs, will be on board. The agency also denied Minnesota's attempt to impose similar restrictions in 2004.

More than 100 community nutrition educators across Minnesota teach healthy cooking and shopping skills to people eligible for food stamps.

As part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, the feds cut about $110 million from the educational component of the program to prevent dairy prices from skyrocketing.

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