‘Meat tax’ would save lives but see sausage prices soar

Modesto Morganelli
Novembre 7, 2018

In our new study, colleagues from the International Food Policy Research Institute in the USA, and the Oxford Martin School and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, analysed the impact of regulating red and processed meat consumption through a health tax on meat.

They also estimated the likely impact of a meat tax on death rates due to chronic disease.

'However, our findings make it clear that the consumption of red and processed meat has a cost, not just to people's health and to the planet, but also to the healthcare systems and the economy'.

The study suggested a tax of 20% on unprocessed red meat and 110% on processed products, with lower taxes in less wealthy nations, would cause fewer deaths and raise almost €150 billion, and save money for health services.

"Optimal" meat taxes were significantly higher in other countries than in the United Kingdom, according to the research.

Sausages, bacon and burgers could soon come with a luxury price tag, because scientists have recommended processed meat in the United Kingdom is taxed by 79%.

Governments don't need to tell people what they can and can't eat, but they have a responsibility to encourage the adoption of healthy and sustainable diets.

Lead researcher Dr Marco Springmann said the consumption of red and processed meat in the United Kingdom exceeds recommended levels in most high and middle-income countries. But the healthcare costs incurred by eating red meat are often paid by all taxpayers, he said: "It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds".

For our study, we used estimates of how red meat and processed meat affect the risks of chronic diseases, and how much it costs to treat those.

By 2020, consumption of red and processed meat was likely to cause 2.4 million deaths per year and cost the global economy 285 billion U.S. dollars (£219 billion), the study found.

Although the tax would massively push up the price of burgers, sausages, mince and steak, scientists behind the study called on all governments to consider imposing it.

With growing evidence of the health and environmental damage resulting from red meat, some experts now believe a "sin tax" on beef, lamb and pork is inevitable in the longer term.

A meat tax "would not limit choices, but send a powerful signal to consumers and take pressure off our healthcare systems" Dr Marco Springmann insisted.

Higher taxes on processed meat were also expected to cause consumers to switch to eating more unprocessed meat.

"The results are dramatic for processed meat", said Marco Springmann, at the University of Oxford and who led the new study.

Globally the benefits of a meat tax included a 16% reduction in processed meat consumption, and the prevention of 222,000 deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. In October, scientists reported that huge reductions in meat eating are essential to avoid risky climate change, including a 90% drop in beef consumption in western nations.

An effective tax in Sweden increased the price of processed meat by a whopping 185% and that of red meat by 27%.

Attempts by the government to tell what to do people don't always go down well.

Louise Davies, head of campaigns at the Vegan Society, said: "We need to consider the negative impact of animal farming on the environment, animals and human health. Meat does not contain fibre, whereas beans, peas and lentils are fibre-rich and they can count as one of your five-a-day".

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