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HEAD-TO-HEAD: Should there be a meat tax?

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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 8/2019 vom 30.10.2019

Fleisch ist für viele ein Grundnahrungsmittel, für Kritiker jedoch eine Belastung für Gesundheit und Umwelt. Könnte eine Fleischsteuer unser Konsumverhalten ändern oder würde sie nur Geringverdienern und der Viehwirtschaft schaden? JULIAN EARWAKER hat für beide Standpunkte Argumente.


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Political sticking point: taxing meat


”We should price meat according to the damage it does to our health and to our planet”
Mike Rayner

MIKE RAYNER is professor of population health at the University of Oxford (www.ndph.ox.ac.uk )

We need to eat less meat if we’re going to avoid the worst effects of global ...

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... warming and meet our Paris Agreement targets. Around 30 per cent of current greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the way we produce food. Half of those emissions are associated with the livestock industry.

Ruminants produce a lot of methane, which is 30 times more dangerous as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane might not last as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but it still lasts tens of years. Because global warming is an imminent crisis, we urgently need to reduce the number of animals, particularly cows and sheep, which are producing the methane.

Animal farming practices in the Amazon are increasingly leading to deforestation. This will have huge consequences for global warming. We need to reverse that trend and plant more trees across the globe, even in places like Britain.

A tax on meat is only one thing we have to do amongst many. But it would reduce environmental pollution, help the conservation of species and improve health. A healthy diet means more plant-based food, and less animal-based and processed food. There’s good epidemiological evidence linking the consumption of red meat — particularly processed red meat — with cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and one form of stroke. For optimal health, we should reduce our meat consumption here in the UK by around 80 per cent.

A meat tax will be bad for people on low incomes: they may switch to cheaper or more processed meat. More expensive meat would leave them with less money to spend on other things. The tax system should change so that poor people pay less income tax and get better social benefits. For VAT purposes, we currently classify foods as staple or luxury. Bread, fruit and vegetables are classified as staples, for example. Meat needs to be viewed as a luxury item, not a staple. It should be taxed accordingly.

Price is an important determinant of behaviour. We know from alcohol, sugary drinks and tobacco that if you make these things more expensive, people will stop eating, drinking or using them. A meat tax would be much more powerful than food labelling or educational campaigns. We should set the price of meat according to the damage it does to our health and to our planet.


”The taxing of specific food products is a regressive approach”
John Royle

JOHN ROYLE is chief livestock adviser at the British National Farmers’ Union (NFU) (www.nfuonline.com )

We must question whether a meat tax is the most effective measure to improve the nation’s health and environmental footprint. There is great potential for market-based drivers and future agricultural policy to support a positive direction for the meat sector — and to help reduce the rate of global warming — without looking at regressive tax solutions.

British beef and sheep farmers provide nutritious, sustainable and affordable food. Consumer choice and the freedom to enjoy meat is important. With 98 per cent of people enjoying beef and lamb as part of their diet, meat is still hugely popular with the public. In fact, red meat is full of essential nutrients, minerals, amino acids and protein — making it one of the most complete proteins around.

A tax on meat would hit the poorest segments of society hardest, and potentially present to those already struggling with a poor diet further challenges in accessing essential nutrients.

The NFU has always said that the targeted taxing of specific food products is a regressive approach to dealing with health and environmental issues. The NFU has clear goals for continuing to improve our productivity so that our environmental impact is reduced. This year, the NFU set an ambitious target for agriculture in England and Wales to reach net zero by 2040. We need to use this opportunity to invest in British farming and food production and make the most of our natural resources.

We will not stop climate change by reducing our own production. That would simply be exporting the problem to somewhere else in the world without the same environmental standards or climate ambitions we have here. We should view livestock production as part of the climate change solution: maintaining productive grassland ensures that a substantial amount of carbon is stored, preventing it from being released permanently into the atmosphere.

British farmers use a variety of different systems to produce food as efficiently as possible. One fact that is often ignored is that beef production in Western Europe is currently 2.5 times more efficient in managing carbon emissions than the global average. Governments should be positively encouraging this rather than punishing efficiency and productivity in the farming industry.

Fotos: Tarek El Sombati/iStock.com; privat