Should We Put a Tax on Meat?
Carbon gets it. Cigarettes get it. Even sweet and lovely sugar gets it. Shouldn't meat get taxed, too?
It's an idea gaining widespread traction. The livestock industry causes, conservatively, 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and massively contributes to land degradation, water pollution and shortages, antibiotic resistance and loss of biodiversity. Meanwhile, meat consumption has been strongly linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
Now many experts are saying that putting a tax on meat would help counter all these things by motivating people to turn to other food choices.
“Current levels of meat consumption are not healthy or sustainable," says Marco Springmann, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at Oxford University. "The costs associated with each of those impacts could approach the trillions in the future. Taxing meat could be a first and important step.”
According to best estimates, more than 180 jurisdictions around the world currently tax tobacco, over 60 tax carbon emissions, and at least 25 put a tax on sugar. Perhaps inspired by this, meat taxes are under consideration by governments in Germany, Denmark and Sweden, said the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return Initiative, an investors' group. And in 2016, China’s government cut its suggested maximum meat consumption by 45%. Momentum is growing.
"A tax on chicken, turkey, pig, cow, fish, and other animal flesh sold in grocery stores and restaurants could help reduce Americans’ skyrocketing annual health-care costs," wrote People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a leading animal-rights group. "Revenue from the tax could be used to clean up areas polluted by animal agriculture, assist farms in transitioning away from animal-based agriculture, and increase access to healthy plant-derived foods in communities that need it most."
Consider a few more figures:
* Research conducted by the University of Chicago found that going vegan is 50 percent more effective in fighting climate change than switching from a conventional car to a hybrid.
* A 2016 Oxford study estimated that vegan eating could, by 2050, save $40 billion in environmental damages and $250 billion in health-care expenses in the U.S. alone.
Anything to encourage this seems beyond wise. It can be done, and easily.
According to PETA, a meat tax would cost a typical meat-eating family of four about $5 per month, though some of that might be absorbed by meat-producing companies. In return, the families would likely save hundreds or thousands of dollars in medical expenses over time as their health improved. And the value in environmental benefits would be incalculable.
So, let's do it. Let's tax all meat.
--By Andrea Solomon