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Meat taxes - on their way?

Investors' group reports on possibility of meat taxation

The investor group FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return) reported this week that meat taxes could be next in the gradual taxation of ‘unhealthy’ foods. Their report, due to be made public in January, suggests the growing evidence for harms from meat mean that taxation is likely to meet climate targets. The group aims to educate investors about the downsides of factory farming and poor animal welfare.

The meat sector is booming, says the report, with sales rocketing 500% between 1992 and 2016 and it is set to grow further, boosted by growing numbers of middle income families in developing economies. According to FAIRR the meat sector is associated with a big greenhouse gas emissions footprint and environmental degradation to soil, water supply, and deforestation. On the health side high levels of meat consumption are associated with growing obesity and certain cancers as well as threatening food security of poorer populations. Lastly, antibiotic resistance in human disease is associated with growth promoters and antibiotics used in livestock.

Taxation to improve health outcomes is increasing around the world including taxes to limit purchase of food rich in sugar and saturated fats. 25 countries and jurisdictions now have some form of sugar taxation, according to the report. Meat will follow as countries try to limit carbon emissions following the Paris agreement. There is already a world consensus on meat’s health and environmental impacts says the report.

The report claims “if animal proteins were cut completely from global diets more than $1 trillion could be saved in health and environmental costs by 2050.”

There isn’t much research on meat taxes as yet, but it does show taxation could limit intake. A study in 2015 modelling the effects of taxes in Sweden found taxation of 3 meats (pork, beef, chicken) plus 4 dairy products of between 8.9% and 33.3% per kilo simultaneously could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, ammonia and phosphorus from the livestock sector by up to 12%. A Scottish modelling study concluded a reduction of 10% in consumption of meat was possible through taxation.

As with all these kinds of incentives the effects of the tax depend very much on what people then choose to eat instead as well as what they give up.

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