Why we need a meat tax


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Inanna Tribukait

Our planet is currently in a state of emergency rivaling the extinction of the dinosaurs.”

In recent years, more and more evidence has come to light that consuming meat is harmful. Not only for us humans, but the seemingly limitless consumption of animal products is one of the top drivers of climate change. Given that the government has already taxed alcohol, tobacco, and sugar, voices are now getting louder demanding a meat tax. There are indeed many reasons as to why making meat more expensive could be a good idea.

In 2015, the World Health Organization warned that the consumption of red and processed meats could cause cancer and according to researchers at the University of Oxford, meat consumption is a burden to the National Health Service and the economy. According to the BBC, introducing a meat tax could save up to £700m in healthcare cost.

Furthermore, red meats like lamb and beef have an enormous environmental impact, beef alone producing 27.0 kilograms of CO2 emissions per one kilogram of meat and requiring 28 times more land than pork or chicken. With reports stating that reducing our consumption of animal products are among the biggest ways everyone of us can individually reduce their own environmental impact, it should seem logical that the government supports such initiative by taxing those harmful substances.

It would be easy to assume that most people who criticize the idea of a meat tax are worried about a nanny state but it is important not to forget that many people still think that vegetarianism or veganism are expensive lifestyles and only available for a well-off elite. Consequently, making meat more expensive would mean that people of lower income would struggle even more economically to sustain a healthy diet. While this is mostly a stereotype and it is easily possible to live on a completely plant-based diet without breaking the bank, this is still a stereotype that needs to be addressed and raising the prizes of animal products should come with a lowering of the prizes of plant-based products. That way, people will be encouraged to purchase the cheaper alternatives.

The introduction of the 5p-charge for carrier bags has shown that consumers are more mindful once their wallet is affected, and while a higher price on a steak alone will certainly not motivate everybody to go veggie, it would reflect the cost that goes into the production of animal products. After all, it hardly makes sense for one liter soya milk (containing 4% soya beans) to be more expensive than sausages made from an animal that was fed with soya every day of its life.

If that worry has been dealt with, the introduction of a tax on meat would still beg the question if we really want a state that controls us so closely that it can even determine the way we eat and consume. Now, this would be a reasonable argument, were it not for the fact that the state already controls the way that we act in approximately hundreds of different ways. Alcohol and tobacco are highly taxed because they are bad for our health, as of recently so is sugar. Many drugs are illegal to safe consumers from the consequences of consumption. That is in spite of the fact that the only person who is physically damaged by their own decision to lead an unhealthy lifestyle is the consumer themselves. If health concerns of individuals are enough to make drugs illegal, to tax alcohol and tobacco and sugar, shouldn’t health concerns coming with meat consumption be reason enough to tax it too?

Our planet is currently in a state of emergency rivaling the extinction of the dinosaurs. Everybody seems to understand the idea that during times of war, decisions need to be taken in a utilitarian way: the ends justify the means and minimizing suffering and maximizing happiness. Is one more well-meaning government regulation really that much worse than cancer, weather extremes and climate wars?

Our meat consumption comes at the price of our own health, impacts our health services, takes up land and destroys rainforests, wastes water, causes greenhouse gas emissions and drives climate change. It is time that the price tag reflects this cost.