By: Zac Rankin
If you like frequenting Algonquin’s cafeteria or vending machines, life could get more expensive if the Ontario Medical Association gets its way.
Last month, the Ontario Medical Association called for higher taxes on high fat, high sugar food (commonly referred to as a fat tax) as well as adding graphic warning labels, similar to those found on packs of cigarettes on food with little or no nutritional value.
France, Hungary and Finland have recently introduced taxes on unhealthy foods. Significantly, Denmark, the first country to implement a “fat tax,” has just announced plans for its repeal.
Brent Brownlee, general manager of food and beverage operations at Algonquin has been tracking the fat tax issue, including what has been happening in Denmark.
“If we increase taxes on certain foods I can see it being like beer is today; people from Ontario cities that border Quebec will cross over in droves,” said Brownlee.
That is what happened in Denmark as the Danes took advantage of lower prices in Germany and is one of the main reasons they are repealing their tax. “If there is going to be a fat tax it will have to be national,” said Brownlee.
“In Denmark there were a lot of administrative costs involved with the tax,” said Brownlee. “Then there’s the problem of deciding what products would be taxed; what about a black coffee that I put six sugars and
creams into, how will that be taxed?
Obesity rates have been growing over the last 35 years. In 1978 14 per cent of Canadians were obese or overweight. Fast forward to 2012 and that rate has grown to nearly 25 per cent for adults and 31 per cent for children, finds the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“The obesity epidemic’s real burden is an unprecedented increase in chronic disease among young people,” wrote Dr. Arya Sharma, professor and chair in obesity at the University of Alberta in his column for iPolitics.ca on Nov. 21 2012. These chronic diseases include diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
To get a sense of what students think about a fat tax the Algonquin Times visited the cafeteria. “I don’t really think it’s the government’s role,” said Josh Spire, second year electrical engineering student.
“Maybe warning labels, like those on cigarette packages, would get people to stop and think,” said Travis Turner, a first year police foundations student.
“I generally eat healthy except on the weekends when I eat at Algonquin because it’s so convenient,” said Chelsea Lloyd, second-year construction engineering student.
The cafeteria offers healthy alternatives but “while student food preferences have changed over the years,” said Brownlee, “pizza was the number one seller five years ago when the cafeteria opened and it’s still number one today.”