The taxation of red meat is a needed measure to save lives, states new research

New research published in the journal Plos One, a peer-reviewed Open Access journal that publishes ‘scientifically rigorous research’, has stated that a taxation on red meat would save many lives and also raise large amounts of money for use in healthcare. The research found that ‘Including the social health cost of red and processed meat consumption in the price of red and processed meat could lead to significant health and environmental benefits, in particular in high and middle-income countries.

This new research, headed up by Dr Marco Springmann, who currently works on the Future of Food project at the Oxford Martin School, uses a standard economic approach, named ‘optimal taxation, to calculate tax rates. The healthcare costs incurred by eating one additional portion of red meat is used to set the tax rate, in contrast to using the total healthcare costs that come about through red meat consumption.

While factually correct, it is still relatively unheard of that processed red meat had been classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation in 2015, and yet despite this announcement, the consumption of red meat is on an upward trend, especially in western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom of 1961, the amount of meat consumption was 69.8kg. In 2002 it was 79.6kg. In the US of 1961, meat consumption per capita was 89.2kg, and in 2002 it was 124.8kg, and increase in 40 years of 35.6kg of meat.

The findings stated that, based on current trends, the health-related costs to society ‘attributable to red and processed meat consumption in 2020 amount to USD 285 billion… three quarters of which were due to processed meat consumption’.

As the prices of processed meat increased by 25% on average under optimal taxation, and prices for red meat increased by 4% on average, the number of deaths attributable to these two foodstuffs decreased by 9% annually, with health costs decreased by 14%, valued at USD 41 billion.

These taxes were created relative to the amount of meat consumed and do not represent a flat global rate. The US would be one of the countries with the highest rates, for example, there would be a 163% levy on ham. Australian meat prices would be met with a 109% tax on processed, and a 18% tax on unprocessed meats. UK rates would 79% and 14% for those food-groups respectively.

‘Change in the price of red meat (a) and processed meat (b) under cost-compensating taxation in relation to attributable health costs (%), change in deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption (%)’. Image: Springmann, Mason-D’Croz, Robinson, Weibe, Godfray, Rayner, Scarborough.

“Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” Springmann said. “It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds. It is not about taking something away from people, it is about being fair.”

The intensive method and global scale of meat demand and subsequent production is also an incredibly damaging industry to the living planet. In a critical report from a group at the University of Oxford published in May, it was stated that reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, is the single biggest way as an individual to reduce your environmental impact. In a similar report, also published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories are essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

More than 80% of arable farmland is used for livestock, in both intensive and organic farms, but it produces just 18% of global food calories. We see this a drastic misuse of land, resulting in not only the willing destruction of native habitats, but the production of large amounts of greenhouse gases. Per 100g of beef produced, a further 105kg of greenhouse gases are created. It is possible that the recommended drop in red meat consumption is a conservative figure, and a route more beneficial to the environment would be to give up the foodstuff altogether, replacing it with plant-based alternatives.

These taxes proposed by Springmann et all, would mean a 16% reduction in the processed meat consumed globally, and would result in the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock to reduce by 110m tonnes annually.

What are your thoughts?