Should we all be eating less bacon? Would it be better for the environment, public health, and animal welfare if Europeans consumed fewer sausages? In November 2018, a study was published by researchers at the University of Oxford looking at the impact of a tax on red and processed meat. It’s already common for governments to tax harmful products in order to reduce consumption, including alcohol, tobacco, and most recently sugar. Should meat be added to the list?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Daniel who strongly supports an extra tax on meat as a way to reduce its consumption. Is this a good idea? What impact would it have in practice?

To get a response, we put Daniel’s comment to Dr Marco Springmann, James Martin Fellow at the University of Oxford, who led the study into the impact of a tax on red and processed meat. What would he say?

There are multiple reasons why one might want to tax meat. One reason is that livestock, and animal products in general, are responsible for the vast majority of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, and roughly 14-15% of overall greenhouse gas emissions. So, a really big chunk, and estimates are such that if we don’t reduce our reliance on animal products then there is a very slim chance that we can avoid dangerous levels of climate change in the future. So, that is one side.

The other side is that red and processed meat are responsible for a great many diet-related chronic diseases. At the end of 2015, red and processed meat were declared carcinogens (in the case of processed meat) and likely-carcinogens (in the case of unprocessed red meat), and that was based on fairly strong mechanistic evidence of how red and processed meat lead to cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. From that perspective, if something is declared a carcinogen, then governments ought to regulate it to basically protect their citizens, that’s the case for asbestos, but also for tobacco.

In each case, a tax on meat would address those problems. So, in the case of climate change a tax on meat would hopefully reduce the demand for meat, at least if we believe in the economic principle that consumers would buy less of a thing that becomes more expensive, and most things would be lower in greenhouse gas emissions, so if they substituted it for something else that would still result in a net reduction. A similar thing would be true if we approach it from a health perspective… Indeed, most things, like white meat, but also plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, nuts, most of those would be much healthier. So, by taxing meat, you would address those two aspects of climate change and health.

For another perspective, we also put Daniel’s comment to Jean-Luc Mériaux, Secretary General of the European Livestock & Meat Trading Union (UECBV). How would he respond?

My answer will be, of course: ‘No’. It is not a good idea at all… Firstly, if we tax meat on the grounds of health or environmental protection, we mean that meat is a risky product. Today, there are many studies that show just the opposite; meat plays a great role in a balanced diet, mainly thanks to the natural nutrients that are contained in the meat. It’s very difficult in our food system to find a food which gathers so many natural nutrients. It’s not only a question of quantity, it’s also a question of quality – that means the nutritional value of the meat.

For instance, when you eat around 100 grams of beef, you get 1 gram of iron, which is needed for human health. In order to get the same amount of iron from plant-based food, you would need to eat 1.2 kilograms of this plant-based food, such as spinach… Last year, the [Lancet] published a scientific study showing that the consumption of meat and dairy products reduces the exposure to some diseases by at least 20%. So, this is my first point. It would be unfair to tax meat because of health or environmental reasons.

Second, what are our experiences with taxes? In 2011, Denmark implemented a so-called ‘fat tax’. And what did Denmark do one year later? The same country removed the tax. Because of what? Because it was very complicated to administer, and because it lowered the demand in Denmark and encouraged people to cross the border in order to buy the same product outside of the country. There was no evidence at all that this ‘fat tax’ was efficient regarding public health. So, because of that, Denmark decided to remove the tax.

Thirdly, if we introduced a tax, who would be the first victims of the tax? The most vulnerable consumers. That means those, maybe, who need more nutritional products, such as meat…

Should there be a red meat tax? Would it be an effective way to address public health and environmental protection? Or would it be a bureaucratic nightmare to enforce, and be ineffective in practice? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – golubovy; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Mériaux (c) -UECBV, Springmann (c) – Marco Springmann


59 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Любомир

    No, no and no. If you don’t like meat, don’t eat it, but you don’t have the right to impose your lifestyle on others by taxing them!

  2. avatar
    Sándor

    Aaaaand a carbon tax, a non-bio vegetable tax, a travel tax, a book-tax …

    • avatar
      Николай

      don’t forget the texting and typing tax to ensure…. uhhh… diversity of thought?

    • avatar
      Sándor

      Internet-tax of course !

    • avatar
      Imre

      We should not eat so much meat so that celebs can fly more with their private jets…

  3. avatar
    Pedro

    I’m all in favour for a vegetables tax !😂
    Start worrying with real world problems!

  4. avatar
    Julia

    Instead of forcing all diets to display the health warning ‘This diet may be unsuitable or harmful to your health due to your unique metabolic type, genetic type, current health issues and health issues you are prone to’, the EU is selectively penalising only the people who require meat for their nutritional requirements. The EU is unethical if they put a special tax on meat which is essential nutrition to most people. There are many other ways to help the environment like Green energy. The EU should focus on those instead of grabbing money and never giving back to the needs of the majority of society and the planet.

    • avatar
      Pete

      Nobody says the EU is proposing this: it’s a proposal for discussion on an independent page. What does the EU have to do with it?
      By the way, I agree with thre rest of what you say.

  5. avatar
    Nicola

    not politically feasible, campaigns like PETA work better

  6. avatar
    Simona

    I think it would be better to stop giving all the subsidies to the farmers producing factory farmed meat and dairy, and instead let meat be sold at the actual cost that it takes to produce. The subsidies should go towards agricultural farming like crops that benefit the health of the planet, which will also help control carbon emissions.

    • avatar
      Nicola

      yes, if we keep breeding

  7. avatar
    Alex

    keep your words for Africa, all across western societies there’s a steady fall of birth since WWII

  8. avatar
    Sárdi

    No, other than pork, you can’t buy anything else!

  9. avatar
    Wasim

    Once they provide good alternatives with good prices sure, however till this moment it’s necessary to consume meat unless you are rich enough to make your choice, or simple try your chance to get away from it but you have to deal with consequences by your own
    What i still fail to understand in context of tax is the added value tax, which basically applied equally on rich and poor, where the rich feel it 0.01% so wtf to talk about and the poor feel it’s like 99% and one meal to give up
    Why we don’t concentrate on productivity tool and resources especially human capital…? Why we insist to collect money…?

  10. avatar
    Alex

    ENOUGH of taxes! Why the EU doesn’t drop the budget after Brexit?

    • avatar
      Jack

      actually more than 98 % of the taxes you are paying are from your own coutry, no matter which one. The European government has a smaller budget than portugal government…

    • avatar
      Alex

      Well it’s a matter of principles.. My country is a NET contributor of the EU’budget, even 1% of that money (billions) are a waste.

  11. avatar
    Antonio

    How would then Springmann fertilize soils to grow the existing croplands and the further needed ectares to replace livestock proteins? Using only agro-chemicals? Should we colonize with croplands also lands which are unsuitable for that (i.e. pulses at 3000mt on rocky mountains) ? Relevant studies from the JRC and Universities have already showed the evidence of EU soil depletion further to a uncontrolled use of agrochemicals along the last 60 years. We need definitely to come back to animal manure and to natural fertilisers. Livestock is an essential part of the agriculture circularity, how do you want to replace the essential role of natural fertilisers (micronutrients + soil structure)? I wonder furthermore how Springman would like to provide EU citizens with B 12 vitamin (produced naturally by animals and artificially by GMO yeasts)… maybe using expensive vitamin B12 supplements coming from laboratories… no thanks I don’t like the idea of tailored food, the meat-tax is a crazy idea, I would prefer EU MSs to invest more on agriculture, biology and nutrition based education… overall to avoid these crazy theories.

    • avatar
      Christophe

      There should be a tax on alcoholic EU commissioners.

  12. avatar
    Marc

    No. We’ll be printing synthetic meat at home within a few decades.

  13. avatar
    Alex

    Do you want a mutiny? Because that’s how you get a mutiny.

  14. avatar
    Γεώργιος

    Old taxes must delete.Of course not any new permmited

  15. avatar
    Павел

    Should there be a tax on absurd questions asked by FB pages?

  16. avatar
    Pawel

    Costs of Leaving in Western Europe are way to high for that stupidity

  17. avatar
    Codrin

    Should there be a tax on yo’ momma ?

  18. avatar
    Chris

    Better REBATE US for the unhealthy food you provide.

  19. avatar
    Pete

    If the only proposal for modifying people’s social behaviour is to slap a tax on it, it’s a non-starter.
    Ever heard of education?

  20. avatar
    Martin

    why? Again, with excuse of environmental protection, the governments are inventing other taxes. The cars & gasoline are high-taxed, let’s see where else we can steal money from citizens…

  21. avatar
    Maria

    Of course not. No more taxes

  22. avatar
    Michail

    A tax on veganism would be much more worthy.

  23. avatar
    Mirko

    Red meat was a food for rich until few decades ago.
    Let’s make it again, poor people must eat bread and onions to be eco-friendly.

    • avatar
      Antonello

      Non dimenticare le “gustosissime” blatte, le cavallette e verminacei vari.

  24. avatar
    Pasqualino

    We need to eat read meat once the week.

  25. avatar
    Fernando

    Perhaps the intelligence of Brussels politicians should be taxed

  26. avatar
    Constantinescu

    And a tax for breathable air, too!

  27. avatar
    Πανος

    Is there a need for taxes? How come there are countries in this planet that have no taxes.

    Just food for thought

    • avatar
      Danai

      of course there is a need for taxes. Which countries are you referring to?

  28. avatar
    Oscar

    Adding taxes is not the best way to stimulate the economy.

  29. avatar
    Jim

    Jesus who dreams this stuff up what are they smoking

    • avatar
      Tomas

      did ya ever here such shite Jim ffs

    • avatar
      Jim

      people get sectioned for less Tom .

    • avatar
      Tomas

      see ya Wednesday with some red meat Wexford rashers

    • avatar
      Jim

      Before the tax

    • avatar
      Tomas

      😉

  30. avatar
    Olivier

    Let tax European Civil servants for their toxicity

  31. avatar
    Rutger

    All kinds of murder should be criminalized.

  32. avatar
    Marina

    What is wrong with you people?!

  33. avatar
    Alexandre

    No
    But it should be a tax for a poluter way of production of food of any product, if there is a clean alternative.

  34. avatar
    Alberto

    We should instead debat why EU parlament/courts/bureaus/agencies politicians and employees on all levels, receive their salarys totally TAX FREE!!!!

  35. avatar
    Shadow Hand

    It won’t I and my wife from eating meat, it will only make us have to pay more for the exact same thing. It will also harm restaurants, as prices may go up and people may decide to stay at home and cook their meats.The only people that may eat less meat are dirt poor people, and that will have disastrous consequences on their nutrition.

  36. avatar
    jthk

    Of course. However, the revenue increased must be going back to improve the environment relating to the production of the red-meat. In this way, taxation is not an punishment but an encourage and collective effort for improvement. This is a way to education the public and to promote technology relating to red-meat production.

  37. avatar
    jthk

    Consumers are even more vulnerable if they do not have a health diet and if environment is not well protected. Europe particularly EU standard has been leading the world on environmental protection. Europe has to take real action so as to trigger a demonstration effect for newly emerged economies that have more people and insufficient awareness on environmental protect.

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