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'Junk food' tax proposal goes to committee

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A bill that would expand Minnesota's tax on snack food will get a hearing Wednesday in the House Taxes Committee. 

The proposal, authored by DFL Rep. Jerry Newton, of Coon Rapids, would add chips, pretzels, cookies and other prepackaged treats to the list of snack items subject to the state's 6.88 percent sales tax -- and maybe help address some health concerns. 

DFL Representative Jerry Newton of Coon Rapids authored the legislation. He used to own several small grocery stores, and says he wants to update the sales tax on snack food so it applies equally to all forms of candy and other food items that are considered unhealthy.

"Just to go after the junk food, especially the Twinkies and that sort of thing," Newton said. "I would say people in the stores that were buying that stuff and eating it tended to be -- not always, but there's a tendency for them to be somewhat obese. And it's just not healthy food."

University of Minnesota nutrition and disease researcher Mark Pereira is critical of the bill because it only applies to individual snack packages weighing 8 ounces or less.

"That's illogical. It's almost like it's backwards, because most of us in public health nutrition feel like it's progress to be reducing the portion sizes, because relatively compelling science has shown that the more you serve somebody, the more they eat," Pereira said.

He also faults the bill for taxing snacks made with whole grains and healthy fats.  

Newton says he may address that issue later, but he doesn't think there are many snacks that would be considered too healthy to tax.