Could a Global Tax on Meat Actually Save Lives?

Could a Global Tax on Meat Actually Save Lives?

At a recent event in the European Parliament, the True Animal Protein Price Coalition (TAPP) proposed a meat tax in Europe. But what impact would this meat tax have on health and climate change? And, if a meat tax was applied globally, could it save lives?

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A meat tax could help compensate for the low current price of animal products.

Taxing Meat

During the event, the Dutch research group CE Delft presented a TAPP commissioned proposal calling for the tax. Per The Brussels Times, the proposal suggests an initial tax of €0.52 per kilo on beef and veal, and €0.41 a kilo on pork. It also called for a €0.18 charge per kilo of chicken.

TAPP claims that taxation could effectively offset the environmental, welfare, and health costs of animal farming. TAPP is made up of health, climate, and health NGOs. These include Compassion in World Farming EU, ProVeg, and others. Under the plan, the price of meat would go up beginning in 2022. This would add a projected €32.2 billion per year by 2030.

The specified amounts would, theoretically, gradually increase to €5.70 for beef and veal, €4.50 for pork, and €2.04 for chicken. Beef and veal prices have the highest increase due to their environmental impact. These charges would also help to correct the “artificially low” current price of meat.

“The time has come for us to act decisively with policy on the environmental consequences of animal protein, the price of which has been kept artificially low for far too long,” said Philip Mansbridge, executive director of ProVeg, one of the coalition members. According to Mansbridge, the plan is “fair for farmers.”

According to a study published in the online journal PLoS One, optimal taxation would see the price of processed meat prices increase by an average of 25 percent. This would then vary from 1 percent in low-income countries to more than 100 percent for high-income countries. This type of targeted taxation could help alleviate the pressure felt by those dependent on cheap meat for survival.

Could a Global Tax on Meat Actually Save Lives?
Revenue could help support farmers to move into more sustainable areas.

Investing in Sustainability

Animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change. It damages ecosystems and causes pollution. It is also an inefficient way of producing protein, due to its excessive consumption of land, water, and crops.

Cows, in particular, are a leading contributor to climate change. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, cattle raised for beef and milk account for 65 percent of livestock sector emissions. The sustainability charge could lead to an estimated 4.2 Mt/a reduction in CO2–eq. emissions in 2030.

Revenue from higher meat prices could also help farmers invest in more sustainable practices. At the start of its proposal, CE Delft specifies that it sets out “a policy package to incentivize the farming sector to reduce its environmental footprint.”

It adds that the policy package should be equitable. The tax should not lead to a “disproportionately high financial burden for lower-income households.” In fact, the revenue could lower value-added taxes and consumer subsidies on fruit and vegetables. Thereby increasing access to fresh produce.

If approved, the proposal would be added to the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy. Farm to Fork aims to create a more sustainable food system by implementing further restrictions on the use of pesticides, fertilizes, and antibiotics. The strategy would move the EU toward a circular economy and reduce the carbon footprint of food processing.

By introducing an EU sustainability tax, revenues can also help consumers transition to healthier diets. Specifically those rich in plant-based foods. A growing body of evidence has linked red meat to chronic health issues, and several government bodies and NGOs recommend moving away from animal products in favor of plant-based alternatives.

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Meat and Health Risks

The 2018 PLoS One study explored the impact meat tax could have on healthcare. It predicted global health costs directly related to red and processed meat consumption could reach $285 billion in 2020. With no change, they estimated that more than two million people will die from causes linked to meat consumption in 2020.

Processed and red meats have been linked to a number of chronic health conditions and diseases. These include colorectal cancer, rectal cancer, and breast cancer, as well as liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

If a meat tax was introduced, both deaths and healthcare costs would be significantly reduced. The study indicated that the number of deaths linked to red and processed meat would drop overall by nine percent. In addition to reduced death-rates, a meat tax could also reduce overall health costs linked to meat consumption by 14 percent globally.

The World Cancer Fund supports a global meat tax. The WCF’s Louise Meincke said: “This research, looking at the potential effects of a meat tax, shows it could help reduce the level of meat consumption, similar to how a sugar-sweetened beverage tax works, as well as offset costs to the healthcare system and improve environmental sustainability.

Minh Nguyen—a registered dietician with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—says that there is “no safe amount” of meat. Instead, Nguyen advocates for a whole-food, plant-based diet. Nutrient-dense plants are linked with lowering the risk of various health conditions. By improving citizens’ diets through taxation and reducing healthcare costs, both patients and taxpayers would benefit.

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Reducing Animal Suffering

According to CE Delft’s report, it would also lead to welfare increases of around €800 million. There will also be a decline in livestock disease, as well as reduced ammonia, NOx, and particulate emissions.

Overconsumption of animal products, in general, maximizes animal suffering. By reducing the overall consumption and production of animal products, a meat tax could minimize the cruelty of mass production. Intensive factory farms have received criticism from animal welfare groups, politicians, and other organizations for the way they treat animals.

Mass production, generally, means more confined spaces and shorter lives. It can also cause outbreaks of disease. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently closed three major slaughterhouses following an E. coli outbreak.