Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Dr Marco Springmann, from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, driving up the price of meat will save lives and slow climate change.
Meat tax could save thousands of lives and slash healthcare costs
Although the tax would push up the price of burgers, sausages and mince, scientists are calling on governments to consider it.
A tax on meat could prevent almost 6,000 deaths a year in the UK and save the economy more than £700m in healthcare costs, according to researchers.
A study has found meat taxes could save an estimated 220,000 lives globally by 2020 and reduce healthcare costs by £30.7bn.
Although the tax would massively push up the price of burgers, sausages, mince and steak, scientists behind the study called on all governments to consider imposing it.
Lead researcher Dr Marco Springmann, from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, said: “The consumption of red and processed meat exceeds recommended levels in most high and middle-income countries.
“This is having significant impacts not only on personal health, but also on healthcare systems, which are taxpayer-funded in many countries, and on the economy, which is losing its labour force due to ill health and care for family members who fall ill.
“I hope that governments will consider introducing a health levy on red and processed meat as part of a range of measures to make healthy and sustainable decision-making easier for consumers.
“A health levy on red and processed meat would not limit choices, but send a powerful signal to consumers and take pressure off our healthcare systems.”
The abstract of the study;
Health-motivated taxes on red and processed meat: A modelling study on optimal tax levels and associated health impacts
Marco Springmann , Daniel Mason-D’Croz, Sherman Robinson, Keith Wiebe, H. Charles J. Godfray, Mike Rayner, Peter Scarborough
Published: November 6, 2018
The consumption of red and processed meat has been associated with increased mortality from chronic diseases, and as a result, it has been classified by the World Health Organization as carcinogenic (processed meat) and probably carcinogenic (red meat) to humans. One policy response is to regulate red and processed meat consumption similar to other carcinogens and foods of public health concerns. Here we describe a market-based approach of taxing red and processed meat according to its health impacts.
We calculated economically optimal tax levels for 149 world regions that would account for (internalize) the health costs associated with ill-health from red and processed meat consumption, and we used a coupled modelling framework to estimate the impacts of optimal taxation on consumption, health costs, and non-communicable disease mortality. Health impacts were estimated using a global comparative risk assessment framework, and economic responses were estimated using international data on health costs, prices, and price elasticities.
The health-related costs to society attributable to red and processed meat consumption in 2020 amounted to USD 285 billion (sensitivity intervals based on epidemiological uncertainty (SI), 93–431), three quarters of which were due to processed meat consumption. Under optimal taxation, prices for processed meat increased by 25% on average, ranging from 1% in low-income countries to over 100% in high-income countries, and prices for red meat increased by 4%, ranging from 0.2% to over 20%. Consumption of processed meat decreased by 16% on average, ranging from 1% to 25%, whilst red meat consumption remained stable as substitution for processed meat compensated price-related reductions. The number of deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption decreased by 9% (222,000; SI, 38,000–357,000), and attributable health costs decreased by 14% (USD 41 billion; SI, 10–57) globally, in each case with greatest reductions in high and middle-income countries.
Including the social health cost of red and processed meat consumption in the price of red and processed meat could lead to significant health and environmental benefits, in particular in high and middle-income countries. The optimal tax levels estimated in this study are context-specific and can complement the simple rules of thumb currently used for setting health-motivated tax levels.
Naturally by environmental benefits, the study authors mean climate benefits.
We used a coupled modelling framework to calculate optimal tax levels for red and processed meat and the associated health and climate change impacts in the year 2020 for 149 world regions (Fig 1). Our calculation included several steps. First, we estimated the health impacts associated with the current and projected consumption levels of red and processed meat. Second, we estimated the health costs associated with those health impacts. Third, we repeated that calculation for a scenario in which we increased red and processed meat consumption by a marginal increase which we take to be one additional serving per day in each region. (Note that we are interested in the change in mortality and health costs per marginal increase in consumption. Because the dose-response functions we use are linear and we divide over the marginal increase when levying the damage costs on baseline prices, it does not matter what we define as marginal.) Fourth, we calculated the marginal health costs of red and processed meat consumption by subtracting the cost estimates of the two scenarios. Fifth, we levied the marginal health costs per marginal change in consumption onto the initial market prices of red and processed meat in each region, and calculated the impacts of those price changes on consumption levels, health impacts, and health costs.
Livestock-related emissions are responsible for the majority of food-related greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, and for about 14.5% of GHG emissions overall, a similar proportion as from transport [39,40]. Consumption changes towards lower red and processed meat consumption could therefore have major implications for climate change. In a sensitivity analysis, we analysed the potential changes in food-related emissions using emissions intensities of foods obtained from meta-analyses of life-cycle analyses (section A6 in S1 File). We note that the emissions intensities do not account for changes in production methods and technologies that might be associated with changes in consumption. In this static framework, we found that optimal taxation could reduce food-related GHG emissions by 109 MtCO2-eq (CI, 50–139), most of which due to reduced beef consumption (Table A18 in S1 File). The change in emissions represents a reduction of 1.2% globally, ranging from less than one percent (0.6 MtCO2-eq) in low-income countries to 3% (62 MtCO2-eq) in high-income countries, and up to 7% in individual countries (Tables A19-A20 in S1 File).
Read more: (Same link as above)
Meat taxes would brutally regressive. Comfortable middle class professors like Dr. Springman probably have nothing to fear from a meat tax, but energy poverty is a very problem in Britain, with millions of people being forced every winter to choose between heating and eating, and sometimes dying because they run out of options.
Dr. Springman might believe there are affordable alternatives to meat, but this isn’t always the case. The City of Oxford might have lots of vegan stores and specialty shops offering a wide variety of non meat protein, but there are many, many regions of Britain where choices are limited and money is in very short supply.
One winter in Britain I helped an elderly neighbour, when I saw him risking his life hobbling through the ice towards the local store to pick up a few essentials, after being snowbound for a week. His wife was terrified of him going out, but they had run out of food. Lets just say there wasn’t a lot of choice on offer when I visited the local store on their behalf.
If these proposed meat taxes are imposed, I strongly suspect far more people will die from starvation and exposure, than any lives saved due to reduced fat intake or whatever.