Taxing meat?

In the past 50 years, per capita meat consumption across the world has nearly doubled, from 23kg a year to 43kg, while total consumption has risen fourfold. And although there are signs that some higher-income countries have reached “peak meat”, the UN has estimated that global consumption will rise a further 76% by around 2050, owing to growing demand from middle-income countries such as China. Livestock farming is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; it leads to biodiversity loss, as wild land is cultivated to grow animal feed – which in turn puts a strain on water resources.

The fact is that there is a limited amount of grazing land, and the world is going to have a problem feeding a predicted 9 billion human beings with a diet as rich in meat as we currently enjoy. Meat production creates greenhouse gases, and its spread leads to deforestation, water shortages, and vast ocean desd zones from pollution. Moreover, meat is not even healthy, and livestock generate 14.5% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. In the West beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses. Is the answer to tax meat? We have been successful in stopping smoking, more or less.

One option is to tax fossil fuels in order to keep global temperature rises to under 2%, the thinking being that higher oil prices would be accompanied by higher prices for nitrogen fertilisers. Since this is not politically on the cards, scientists suggest differential taxes for different animals, the problem with this being that they don’t agree which species is the most harmful in terms of methane emissions, nitrogen and phosphate pollution, effects on biodiversity and carbon stored in the soil. One group recommends a 40% tax on beef and an 8.5% tax on chickens, whereas another group advocates a 40% tax on chickens and 28% on beef.

All sorts of issues make a flat tax on all meat simpler, and this could be done by imposing VAT (or sales tax)on all meat, with exemptions for small farms in order to encourage entrants into farming. (Guardian 28/4/17)

I must declare an interest: I am personally a virtual vegetarian, and haven’t eaten beef or pork for ages, just some chicken for the protein. I am in favour of a programme for building more fish farms and encouraging people to eat a Mediterranean-style diet, including fish. We cannot for much longer over-fish the seas, or overfill the fields with grazing cattle and pigs. Put sales taxes on beef, pork and mutton, and apply the proceeds to counter global warming.

One Comment

  1. Spotted after I posted the above:

    Health experts have called on the Government to introduce a “meat tax”, claiming it would save many lives while easing the burden on healthcare. Since 2015, the World Health Organisation has classified processed red meat – including sausages and bacon – as carcinogenic. And unprocessed red meat is linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Researchers from Oxford Martin School and the Nuffield Department of Population Health – the first organisation to advocate a sugar tax – claim that increasing the cost of red meat by 14%, and processed meat by 79%, would prevent nearly 6,000 deaths in the UK each year, and would save the NHS £700m annually. Dr Marco Springmann, who led the research, said that while eating meat was a “personal” decision, it was unfair for all taxpayers to bear the burden imposed by those who eat a lot of meat. ( reported in The Week, Nov 17, 2018)

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