‘Meat tax’ could save thousands of lives, claim researchers

Maricruz Casares
Noviembre 7, 2018

Meat tax rates high enough to be effective varied from country to country, but in the United Kingdom the "optimal" level would see the cost of red meat rise by 14 per cent and processed meat by 79 per cent, the research indicates.

There is also a growing awareness of the environmental impact of eating red meat.

The World Health Organisation has classified beef, lamb and pork as carcinogenic when eaten in processed form, and "probably" cancer-causing when consumed unprocessed. It found that a 20% tax on unprocessed red meat and a 110% tax on the more harmful processed products across rich nations, with lower taxes in less wealthy nations, would cut annual deaths by 220,000 and raise $170bn (£130bn).

The research indicated that a health tax could reduce consumption of processed meat by around two portions per week in high-income countries like the UK.

Fans of the Great British breakfast may end up having to put their money where their mouth is, with several of the core components - bacon, sausages and black pudding - likely to be affected by a hefty tax on processed meat.

"Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can't eat", Springmann said.

In the United Kingdom, the "optimal" tax level increased the cost of red meat by 14% and processed meat by 79%.

Red meat consumption has also been associated with increased rates of coronary heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

On a global scale, meat taxes could prevent the deaths of around 220,000 people by 2020 and save £30.7bn, according to scientists at the University of Oxford.

For the United Kingdom, it was estimated that 6,000 lives could be saved every year if a 14% on red meat and 79% of processed meat were imposed.

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Despite the huge impact on the price of burgers, sausages, mince and steak, the scientists behind the study called on all governments to consider imposing meat taxes.

"Red meat provides valuable nutrients, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D and B vitamins".

"Consuming red and processed meat not only affects your health but also the economy at large", said Springmann, citing decreased productivity due to illness and care for family members who suffer with chronic disease.

"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".

So although consumers would still have the choice to eat red and processed meat, they would have to contribute to paying for treating the chronic diseases that its consumption is assumed to cause.

The global benefits of a meat tax included a 16% reduction in processed meat consumption, and the prevention of 222,000 deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. In October, scientists reported that huge reductions in meat eating are essential to avoid unsafe climate change, including a 90% drop in beef consumption in western nations.

Attempts by the government to tell what to do people don't always go down well.

To fully cover the costs, the health taxes would have to be doubled and, in high-income countries, increase to 200% for processed meat.

Louise Meincke, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: "This research, looking at the potential effects of a meat tax, shows it could help reduce the level of meat consumption, similar to how a sugar-sweetened beverage tax works, as well as offset costs to the healthcare system and improve environmental sustainability".

"A meat tax need not be particularly controversial given the prevalence of alternatives to meat and their benefits".

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