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Ontario docs urging taxes, warnings on junk food


Ontario doctors say it's time to fight obesity using the tools that worked in the battle against smoking.

The Ontario Medical Association this week announced its proposal to add an extra tax to junk food and package the products with tobacco-like warning labels.

“There’s an epidemic of obesity in our society,” OMA president Doug Weir told the Globe and Mail. “We want to do something to turn back the clock.”

At a Tuesday morning news conference, the association displayed a close-up image of a diabetic's foot ulcer. They suggested placing the picture on the side of a pop can, for instance, to discourage Canadians from consuming high-sugar products.

“If we want to keep health care sustainable in the province, we have to do something,” Weir noted.


Industry group Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC), which represents major manufacturers, said that while obesity is a “serious issue,” it cannot be solved with higher taxes and graphic warnings.

"The biggest disappointment for us was the comparison of food to tobacco," Derek Nighbor, FCPC's vice-president of public and regulatory affairs, told Canadian Grocer. "Tobacco has absolutely no place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle, but food does."

He said the industry supports the OMA's position that Canadians need to eat fresh produce and stay active, but adds the FCPC "will never support" a so-called "fat tax" and warning labels. Among a number of reasons, Nighbor said that placing a surcharge on certain foods will disproportionately affect lower- and middle-income earners who devote a significant portion of their household budget to food and beverages.

Instead, he said doctors, policy makers and the food industry should focus on educating Canadians to make informed decisions about the food and drinks they consume.

The BC Medical Association, for its part, said the fat tax proposed by the OMA might not be the best plan for Canada’s most westerly province for a very practical reason: there is no concrete definition of junk food.

"I think it would be difficult to draw up a list of things that were truly bad versus things that are truly good and be able to implement a tax on that basis. Not that it's impossible to do something in that direction but it would be a tough road I think," Dr. Lloyd Oppel told News 1130.

However, he added the BCMA might consider the idea of putting graphic warning labels on some unhealthy foods and will be watching the OMA’s campaign closely.

The OMA did not return Canadian Grocer's calls before press time.  

Around the world

Several countries and districts have introduced fat taxes over the past few years to varying degrees of success. Last fall, Denmark introduced a tax on foods containing more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat. Consumers would pay about $3 per kilogram of saturated fat in products ranging from milk and oils to packaged foods, writes the Globe. According to the FCPC, the country is in the process of scrapping the surcharge.

Hungary has brought in a “junk food tax,” and France has implemented a tax on all sweetened drinks, reports the Guardian. Peru plans to add levies to junk food and Ireland is also considering this strategy. Finland and Romania are looking at the possibility of a “fat tax.” In another article, the Guardian writes that Denmark, Switzerland and Austria have all banned trans fats.

CTV notes that variations on the “fat tax” have been proposed across Canada for years, including in Quebec.

The OMA has advocated for calorie labeling, calling on restaurants and cafeterias to post nutritional information on their foods so that consumers can make more informed choices.

See OMA president Doug Weir in this Newstalk 1010 video talking about its proposal:

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