Negative environmental and health impacts of high meat consumption ‘put meat on the same pathway to taxation’ as sugar, carbon and tobacco, according to a farm investor initiative.
The Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) Initiative said some governments would be looking to enforce a behavioural tax on meat to ensure they stick within the guidelines of the Paris agreement to keep global levels well below 2degc.
Jeremy Coller, chief executive of Coller Capital and founder of the FAIRR Initiative, said: “The damage the meat industry causes to our health and environment make it very exposed to similar levies, and it is increasingly probable we will see meat taxes become a reality.
“If policymakers are to cover the true cost of livestock epidemics like avian flu and human epidemics like obesity, diabetes and cancer, while also tackling the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance, then a shift from subsidisation to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable.”
In its new report, The Livestock Levy, FAIRR said population growth had driven up global meat consumption by more than 500 per cent between 1992 and 2016, but a move to ‘nutritionally balanced’ plant-based diets by 2050 would prevent $600 billion in climate damages.
It called on retailers to consider adopting an internal ‘shadow price’ of meat to account for future costs, with suggested figures from Denmark of about $2.7 per kilogram.
Mick Sloyan, senior director for pork at AHDB, said at best, tax would be ‘an incredibly blunt tool for a complex problem’.
He warned the move would push up prices and hit consumers in the pocket at a time when there is already uncertainty about food prices as the country leaves the EU.
He said: “The British meat industry has signed up to commitment to reduce environmental impact as part of a deal for UK agriculture that will help achieve Paris targets.
“We know more can be done and there is a positive response on this because it is good for the environment, in terms of better use of resources, and for the farmer, in terms of potential profit.
“The industry is committed to working towards this. A tax on meat is not part of the answer.”
But Laura Wellesley, a research associate at think tank Chatham House, said the industry would not see the scale of change in behaviour it needed ‘if [we] do not raise the price of food’.
Friends of the Earth food and farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow said the government must encourage people to eat ‘less and better meat’ but warned incentives to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and plant proteins may be a better approach.
“Business as usual is not working for anyone,” she added. “The price we pay for meat does not fairly reward farmers or reflect the true impacts of cost of production, and people in the UK are eating more than is good for their health of the environment.”