A report from the University of Oxford in England put forward proposals that a tax on red and processed meats would be introduced by the government and that it would “save lives and reduce healthcare costs”.
Although these proposals were put to governments all over the world, the report suggested that a 14% tax on red meat and a 79% tax on processed meat would save the UK Government £700m a year in healthcare costs.
Unsurprisingly, the meat industry in the UK hit back at these proposals. Dr Carrie Ruxton, member of the Meat Advisory Panel, told sister title Food Manufacture that the proposals were “ill-advised” and “would be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
Also feeling that the proposal is over the top, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) raised the point that the meat industry needed to showcase itself more positively to help battle these proposals.
“Beyond the need to counterbalance negative and misguided perceptions, AIMS also sees a wider need to positively promote the sale of British meat to the British market, whilst advocating the skilled, valued and important work done across the supply chain,” said an AIMS spokesperson.
Of course, this is not the first time a meat tax has been proposed. Last year, Germany’s Federal Environment Agency urged that taxes on animal products should be raised from 7% to 19%. In this case, the agency proposed the increased tax due to the perceived impact of agriculture on climate change. When proposed, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, member of the SPD party, and Minister of Food Christian Schmidt, who was also a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), were quoted in the press as being against the increased tax.
Hendricks said: "These are the proposals of the Federal Environment Agency, not those of the Ministry of the Environment, and I do not think much of some of the individual measures contained in them." While Schmidt added: "I do not want to dictate to the citizens by punitive taxes what comes to the table.”
There hasn’t been much talk of a meat tax in Germany since then.
In 2016, think tank Danish Council of Ethics suggested a tax on beef, also due to climate change. Although focusing on beef, it proposed that all ‘climate-damaging’ food items should be taxed. However this has not progressed further than the proposal stage in the country.
Also in 2016, animal rights campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called for a meat tax in the US via a publicity stunt involving nuns outside the Republican Party National Convention. Given President Trump’s love of fast food, particularly McDonald’s, the appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears however PETA is still campaigning for the levy claiming it would help to reduce the US’ annual health care costs.
Sweden has also had plenty of meat tax supporters in the past. In 2015, an environmental campaign group Swedish Food and Environment Information (SMMI) started a petition to introduce a tax on meat. This was two years after the Swedish Board of Agriculture’s proposal was shot down by the Government. At the time of the 2015 petition, even a SMMI spokesman said there was a “low possibility” of it happening but recognised the importance of raising political awareness.
Regardless of the reason why the meat tax was proposed, these efforts do have something in common – they all failed to get off the ground. That doesn’t mean it won’t be successful one day somewhere as all it will take is the right argument, framed in the right way at the right time for a Government to move forward with it. It wasn’t so long ago that a levy on soft drinks in the UK would have been laughed at but it is now in effect and manufacturers have had to move quickly to reformulate their products to avoid being hit.
The global meat industry is unlikely to want be put in the same position in which they have to adapt their products or be faced with increased taxation, especially when margins are tight enough as it is.