Environment

Would a meat tax help curb climate destruction?

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close up of various meat in a supermarket

Image: Shutterstock/Picsfive

As new world economies begin to emerge, meat consumption is presumed to rise correspondingly. A fourteen percent increase in pork and beef, and a twenty percent rise in chicken and dairy demand are predicted throughout the next decade. According to a UN International Resource Panel study, which is composed of more than thirty top scientists and their governments, harmful environmental effects caused by meat production will also likely move up from already detrimental levels as a result. We can expect even greater climate destruction than originally anticipated if China and Indonesia, for example, model their eating patterns after America and the UK. To offset the potential damage, the report calls all world governments to encourage citizens to lower their meat consumption, and some authors further suggest implementing a meat tax, which they believe might curb consumption to more sustainable levels.

The study, co-authored by Professor Maarten Hajer, found that our current global system of farming and transporting food causes “24% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 60% of the loss of species around the world” (eye-opening numbers, especially when compared to other sources), as well as health problems from excessive consumption (with the U.S. and Europe leading at nearly twice the level of meat consumption considered healthy by a London Chatham House study) in industrialized countries causing increased obesity, cancer and Type 2 diabetes, which in combination Hajer insists proves “our current food system has to change because it’s not sustainable.”

The proposed tax would likely only cause a slight increase in most people’s weekly shopping bills of “about the price of a latte,” says Adam Briggs, a University of Oxford public health researcher and author of a similar study, but would substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as a noteworthy decrease in or delaying of “avert death from heart disease and cancer.”

But the proposal has some critics. Henk Westhoek, who co-authored the UN IRP report, prefers supermarkets and food companies take on some responsibility as well, not just forcing the consumers to absorb the costs in a meat tax. If stores and companies provided greater numbers of alternatives to meat and overall menus, consumers would buy it and meat consumption would naturally shrink. Others advocate for a reduction in meat farm subsidies as a more suitable response.

Richard Tiffin, a University of Reading economics professor, doesn’t think highly of proposed meat taxes either. Tiffin insists studies clearly indicate the above-named positive changes as likely with such a tax, but isn’t sure the benefit to the environment would equal the possible negative effects on low-income shoppers or farmers. He believes alternatives should be explored involving a more focused evaluation of how consumer choices are truly made.

Regardless of whatever action is taken, informing the world’s population of the current global destruction due to meat production is paramount. It is clear that many are not aware of it, which likely precludes the impact of any real sustainability efforts.

Kristen lives in the Michiana area, where she enjoys lake-effect weather, apple orchards and occasional South Shore rides into Chicago. She can probably tell you more about apple cider vinegar than you'd ever want to know. You can reach her at: http://lakesedge.wix.com/lakesidewriting