HST on soy milk discriminates against vegans, B.C. cookbook author says
A vegan cookbook author says the harmonized sales tax discriminates against people who eat a plant-based diet or are lactose-intolerant.
That’s because the 12-percent HST applies to single-serving-size containers of plant-based milks, such as soy milk and rice milk, but not to single servings of cow’s milk.
"I do, in a sense, think it’s discrimination if that single-serving size is taxed just because it’s not an animal milk," Dreena Burton, the author of Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, told the Straight.
Speaking by phone from her home in White Rock, the mother of three said she was "pretty shocked" when her husband mentioned to her that, under the HST, they could end up paying more for almond, hemp, rice, and soy milks at the store.
Sarah Harrison, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Finance, confirmed to the Straight by phone that the now-defunct seven-percent provincial sales tax did not apply to both cow’s milk and plant-based milks.
Harrison referred questions on the tax status of goods under the HST to the Canada Revenue Agency.
According to Bradley Alvarez, a Vancouver-based spokesperson for the CRA, the tax status of products under the HST generally remains the same as it was under the five-percent goods and services tax.
Alvarez told the Straight by phone that there's no HST on one-litre cartons of plant milks.
The HST is charged on containers of plant milks smaller than 600 millilitres, but only when they are sold separately, he explained.
"If you were to buy a single serving of milk at your local grocer—250 mL—it’s not subject to HST," Alvarez said, referring to cow's milk. "Milk is milk. There’s no HST regardless on milk. It’s just the single serve of the rice milk or the soy milk."
Alvarez pointed out that the tax status of milks is outlined in the Basic Groceries chapter of the CRA's GST/HST Memoranda Series.
Section 22 of the document states: "Beverages made from non-animal sources, such as soy or rice, are not considered to be milk or milk-based beverages for GST/HST purposes."
To Burton, it's not fair that the many people who drink plant milks due to diet, allergies, or lactose intolerance are asked to pay more tax than consumers of cow's milk.
"We have chosen to not eat animal foods," she said of her family. "But those choices are based on some pretty extensive research that’s out there that has shown us that cow’s milk is not healthy for our system. It’s also based on personal experience that, when we’ve eaten dairy products, we don’t feel good. So, for us, while it’s a choice, it is in some respects essential to us, because we wouldn’t go back on that choice."
Burton is calling on the federal government to treat animal and plant milks the same under the HST.
Robin Smith, the executive director of the B.C. Milk Producers Association, told the Straight that there is “no such thing as plant milk” and that rice and soy milks are actually “plant juice”.
“People talk about it that way, because it’s made to look like imitation milk,” Smith said by phone from his Burnaby office. “But there is no official or legal term called soy milk or rice milk or anything else of that nature. Those are not accepted terms in the food-inspection business.”
Smith noted that he didn’t know these products were treated differently under the HST until a couple days ago.
He pointed out that the dairy industry supports the HST because it reduces input costs. Producers are also pleased the federal government recognizes cow’s milk as “one of the essential food products” and doesn’t levy the HST on it, according to him.
“Now, if other people get the same treatment, good for them,” Smith said. “We’re not there to be against anything, in the sense of using the HST as a weapon. That’s not our objective.”
Burton noted that these days many families are trying to make healthier choices. But she argued it's harder to make better choices when healthy options are more expensive.
"That’s something that I’m asked a lot about: ”˜Is this diet more expensive?’" Burton said, referring to her vegan diet. "Well, sometimes it can be, and this is the reason why. If subsidies are provided to industries that are not plant-based, if they’re provided to the dairy industry and to the meat industry, or there’s breaks given in terms of taxes, then it’s more difficult for families to make that choice."
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