One of the things I have been reading about, both on various Vegan groups and prominent publishers such as the guardian, is how United Nations (UN) experts have proposed a tax on meat production. This taxation comes as a response to the global rise in consumption of meat and the environmental damage that goes with it. Report predicts as much as a 20% rise in chicken and dairy consumption, 14% in pig and beef in the next ten years. The food farmed and transported to feed the current 7 billion population is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions and 60% of the loss of species.
Organisations, such as PETA and Greenpeace, have provided recommendations to make food production more sustainable, partially by including less meat consumption. While these grand ideas seem good in theory, dealing with consumer choices is a touchy subject not many supermarkets and food companies would want to stand behind.
Days such as meat free Friday have been proposed to curb carbon emissions by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (until a recent resigration). This panel ranked agriculture on par with fossil fuel consumption since both are expected to rise rapidly with economic growth.
If tax were to increase on meat, would this be a viable solution?
Could Taxation work?
Living in Australia has given me a first hand insight on high taxation rates on items. The prime example that comes to mind is alcohol. Alcohol is not part of our dietary needs, damaging to our health and perfectly legal. In Australia, due to extremely frequent cases of domestic violence, drink driving, cancer rates and other alcohol related incidence, the government decided to input a high tax rate to hopefully reduce people’s consumption.
If I were to consider myself personally, did this high tax rate work? I used to walk into any supermarket in France and could happily buy a 24 pack of beer for 4€. Now if I walk into a ‘Bottle-O’ I get excited if I see a 6 pack of beer available for less than $15. Have I began buying less alcohol? Definitely. Am I, a test group of 1 an accurate representation if this scheme has worked? No, most likely not.
In January 2016, a Brian Vandeberg and Anurag Sharma ran a year long study analysing the alcohol consumption habits of 885 Victorian households. The study revealed that the current taxation of alcohol led to a huge difference between the amount of tax paid per standard drinks. Due to this, cheap four litre cask wine remains affordable. Even though most people past the age of 18 do not go near it if they have the choice. Overall the government studies have shown that increasing the price of alcohol is one of the most effective policy interventions to reduce the level of alcohol consumption and related problems.
These taxes were imposed by the government to protect their people from harmful consumption, evidence that 1.9 – 5.8% (2,182 – 6,620) of all cancers have been attributed to long term use of alcohol each year in Australia. More information about the relationship between alcohol and cancer can be found here.
Cigarettes are another product that Australia taxes heavily. On 1st August 2013, the government announced it would introduce a 12.5% increase in tobacco tax over four year period. This, similarly to alcohol, is one of the strategies implemented to encourage people to quit smoking. The high prices for tobacco is also aimed at young people to stop them smoking in the first place. Studies have shown, that in a number of countries the tax increase does indeed result a correlation to people quitting smoking. Cancer Council Australia estimates that 20% of the nation’s cancer is a direct result to smoking. Yet, along with alcohol, both remain legal. In addition to the thousands of research papers about the dangers of smoking, Australia’s tax has helped in dramatically reducing the sales of tobacco.
Red Meat Cancer
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified processed meats as a class 1 carcinogen, an indication of how certain it is these products are likely to cause cancer. In 2010, around 2600 new bowel cancer cases in Australia were associated with consuming too much red meat and processed meat. So far there hasn’t been enough evidence to suggest links between poultry and cancer while fish has shown it may help reduce the risk of bowel, breast and prostate cancer. While this might seem to give fish bonus points, the increasingly polluted oceans mean that fish, particularly fish higher up in the food chain, are gathering harmful chemicals and substances.
The cancer council recommends eating a moderate intake of 65 – 100g of cooked red meat 3-4 times a week. Honestly, I find them including a paragraph recommending consuming red meat shortly after telling people that almost 3000 cases of just bowel cancers have been directly related to it a bit disturbing. They seemed to have mixed that number in amongst dietary recommendations, tips and ideas on cooking meat. Do we not have sufficient evidence to discourage meat consumption? Does the meat industry have too much pull in the government and advertising?
Our world view may be slowly shifting
I ask these questions because as little as 40 years ago, cigarettes were advertised by doctors, preaching health and weight loss. Now these ideas seem absurd, just have a look at some of these vintage ads. Is it at all possible that in 40 years we will be looking at meat in a similar way? Once the stigma of changing diet subsides, and scientific facts brought forward into the main stream media.
In a way, doesn’t this seem like a tactic to not anger the public? In comparison to alcohol, the numbers of cancer related cases are similar. Studies have been done linking the two. Would this not suggest that if taxing alcohol had helped decrease these cases, taxing meat would have a similar effect? This is only considering health of course. Taxing meat and decreasing the demand for it could potentially help decrease the rate of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.
Considering the amount of hate, distrust and anger that meets the environmentally conscious, I understand the hesitation of governments to implement UN’s recommendations.
Everyone already seems to have forgotten WHO’s warnings and instead enjoys posting photos to social media of themselves eating steaks and poking fun of those who have listened to the research. Instead people could be joining the cause to slow deforestation and CO2 output.
The issue seems to be bigger than health, environment and appears to be tangled somewhere in the deep dark secrets of politics that I do not understand. What are your thoughts?