Meat Taxes – Should we pay less for vegan food?
Towards the end of last year, a senior British politician by the name of Alok Sharma – who had recently been appointed chairman of the COP26 climate change conference – was asked whether the government would introduce a tax on meat given its environmental costs.
He was categorically against the idea, explaining“I’ve been very clear that on a personal level I’m someone who believes a lot in carrots rather than sticks, trying to encourage people to move in the right direction.”
When asked if people should eat less meat to save the planet, he said it was a “personal choice”.
Meat VS Planet
Animal agriculture is devastating to the environment, contributing to land degradation, water and air pollution, resource use, biodiversity loss and global warming.
Although there is some debate in the scientific community about the proportion of emissions it is responsible for, it is generally understood to be between 14.5 and 18% (although a recent estimate puts it at 87%).
Although animal agriculture is of course not the only problem to be solved, it should be an essential part of any environmental plan.
A great study of 2018 found that Western countries would need to cut their beef consumption by 90% to avoid dangerous climate change, and the The United Nations recently approved a report urging world leaders to move away from animal agriculture and toward plant-based food systems.
Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, there remains a reluctance on the part of politicians and the general public to accept that we urgently need to change our diet.
This is where the question of relying on “personal choice” lies.
An IPCC report published in April 2022 proclaimed that it was “now or never” to limit global warming, indicating that time is running out to let the public decide whether they want to reduce their meat consumption.
We need urgent action from governments to help food systems shift to plants if we are to meet climate goals and keep vital ecosystems alive – but is taxing meat the solution?
A study from the University of Oxford published in January 2022, which looked at the effect meat taxation would have in countries like the US, UK and Australia, concluded that it would indeed help the environment.
He found that a cost increase of 20-60% (depending on the type of meat) would reduce consumption of the most harmful foods.
The study indicates that the average retail price of meat in high-income countries is expected to increase by 35-56% for beef, 25% for poultry and 19% for lamb and pork to reflect the environmental impacts of their production.
But there’s no denying that increases like these appear on the face of it to be contributing to already skyrocketing food costs, and critics of the meat tax have argued that it will disproportionately affect the poor.
This is an extremely important point that proponents of meat taxes cannot ignore.
If such a tax were introduced, it can be argued that the drop in consumption would be largely due to the fact that some people would no longer be able to afford it, while the wealthy would continue to buy meat unscathed.
But governments shouldn’t introduce a meat tax and then walk away and let the public pick up the pieces. This should be just one of many steps they should take to move towards a plant-based food system that creates food that is accessible to everyone.
Researchers in the Oxford study found that in addition to its ability to reduce meat consumption, one of the ‘key benefits’ of the meat tax is that it could create revenue to help farmers to switch to other sources of income and to support low-income people. income families.
“There are ways to ensure that meat taxes don’t put additional financial pressure on low-income people,” said Franziska Funke, lead authorand researcher in the study.
“That’s why we suggest meat tax revenue be redistributed to support low-income households or subsidize fruit and vegetables.”
According to this research, most low-income people could end up with more money than before meat tax reform.
Some people may argue that this system is unfair and would deprive people of vital nutrition.
But the idea that meat is an essential part of our diet comes from decades of clever marketing and ignores the many studies that have concluded that plant-based diets are optimal for humans, as well as the link between meat consumption and disease.
Also, the long-term goal shouldn’t be for some people to continue eating meat while others don’t. A meat tax could be an essential step in solving the problem of meat consumption, but it is not the complete solution.
Governments should strive to make plant-based diets the norm by making them available to everyone.
The reason meat products are so prevalent in our society is because governments give billions in animal subsidies.
Subsidies are taxpayer-funded subsidies that governments give to industries to reduce costs, thereby making their products more accessible to the consumer.
The taxpayer is believed to be providing more than $1 million per minute in global farm subsidies. In the UK, about 90% of the income of farmers who graze their livestock comes from subsidies.
In the United States, tens of billions of dollars are given to farmers every year.
The Trump administration paid out a $16 billion support package on top of regular subsidies in 2019, while cutting the food stamp budget by $5 billion.
This level of support has created a system where unhealthy meat products – like cheap fast food – are more accessible than fruits and vegetables.
If agriculture received this funding, it would have the potential to provide much cheaper food to more people than our current system does. Agriculture requires much less land and resources than livestock and would be much more efficient in feeding the population if prioritized.
We are wasting money that could be used to manufacture cheap food on a large scale on struggling industries that are unable to feed the population and accelerate the world towards environmental destruction.
Not a quick fix
Governments should stop subsidizing the meat and dairy industries and instead direct the money to agriculture while helping existing animal producers move there.
While a meat tax has the potential to be a positive step towards a plant-based system, it should by no means be a stand-alone policy.
There needs to be an urgent shift in our food system away from animal agriculture, and governments should allocate funds to reflect this.
After years of marketing campaigns that have sold the public the totally wrong idea that meat and dairy products are an essential part of a balanced diet, they should also take steps to educate the public about the benefits of plant-based food.