Governments are brainstorming for ways to combat the devastating environmental effects of factory farming, and several countries in Europe are calling for a tax on meat. No other industry involves the most pressing environmental and health issues of today, like GMOs, increased greenhouse gases, the destruction of natural habitats, herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, quite like factory farming. Even worse, the meat and the corn and soy that feed them are on the receiving end of a massive amount government subsidies. Our government pays nearly 38 billion dollars a year to hasten the death of our eco-system and ourselves.
Yet meat is still powerfully entrenched in cultures worldwide, and the likelihood of a completely vegan or even vegetarian world is not high. 84% of vegetarians and 70% of vegans return to eating meat at some point in their lives. Our current carnivorous habits are not sustainable. Is a meat tax the way to fix it?
The Danish Ethics Council started with a call for a tax on beef. That measure was passed by the council and is now scheduled for government consideration. While beef causes 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, more than chicken and pork, the council has plans to extend the proposed tax to other red meats.
The United Kingdom
Several studies in the United Kingdom have resulted in a national conversation likely to result in meat taxes within the next 10 years. Analysis from Glasglow University and Chatham House, an international thinktank, indicate that public would see government intervention in this issue as a positive. According to Laura Wellesley from Chatham House, lead author of the research,
“Governments are ignoring what should be a hugely appealing, win-win policy…The idea that interventions like this are too politically sensitive and too difficult to implement is unjustified. Our focus groups show people expect governments to lead action on issues that are for the global good. Our research indicates any backlash to unpopular policies would likely be short-lived as long as the rationale for action was strong.”
The survey analysis also found that many were surprised to learn of government subsidies for meat production, particularly in the large amounts given by the U.S. government.
Germany already has a tax of 7 percent on animal products. The German federal environment agency has expressed a desire to raise that number to 19 percent, in order to keep with the Paris climate accords. Consumers would be the ones to pay this fine, although the agency has suggested that the estimated 5.2 billion euro tax revenue would lower consumption taxes on other food items.
My Opinion: We Pay to Produce It, Now We Pay to Eat It…?
America is much more attached to its meat products than Europe. The average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year, and for that American to be eating healthy (as it pertains to cancer and heart disease) levels of meat, those 200 pounds need to be reduced by two-thirds. But would Americans be so gung-ho about meat if they knew they’re actually paying an extra 8 dollars in hidden costs (healthcare, subsidies, and environmental degradation) for each Big Mac?
Here’s an idea…rather than tax consumers and charge them twice, slowly pull subsidies away from corporations running businesses contributing to climate change. This likely won’t happen, as the U.S. government cares about businesses, not people. Maybe if businesses weren’t so short-sighted, they would realize that people with more money buy more products.
In our current iteration, a meat tax in the United States is more likely to leave poor people without the funds or the knowledge for proper nutrition. Replacing everything meat with a version of tofurky isn’t sustainable or healthy either. In our school systems, we need real health and real food education that includes gardening.
On the other hand, if the tax happens, and it does promote awareness and reduced meat consumption, we’re not going to be too angry.