Should there be a tax on red meat?

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In our new study, colleagues from the International Food Policy Research Institute in the U.S., and the Oxford Martin School and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, analysed the impact of regulating red and processed meat consumption through a health tax on meat.

They also calculated the projected impact of a so-called meat tax on death rates due to chronic disease.

The World Health Organization declared processed red meat to be a carcinogen in 2015, and unprocessed red meat such as steaks and chops to be a probable carcinogen. 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 consumption of red and processed meat exceeds recommended levels in most high and middle-income countries", said lead researcher Dr Marco Springmann.

Sausages, bacon and burgers could soon come with a luxury price tag, because scientists have recommended processed meat in the United Kingdom is taxed by 79%.

The scientists behind the study have urged all governments to consider imposing what they referred to as a "health levy" to ease pressure on healthcare systems.

In the United Kingdom, the "optimal" tax level increased the cost of red meat by 14% and processed meat by 79%. But the healthcare costs incurred by eating red meat are often paid by all taxpayers, he said: "It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds".

A study has found meat taxes could save an estimated 220,000 lives globally by 2020 and reduce healthcare costs by £30.7bn.

With growing evidence of the health and environmental damage resulting from red meat, some experts now believe a "sin tax" on beef, lamb and pork is inevitable in the longer term.

In the United Kingdom, they said the "optimal" tax level to reduce consumption would increase the cost of red meat by 14% and processed meat by 79%.

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Our findings make it clear that the consumption of red and processed meat has a cost - not just to people's health and to the planet - but also to healthcare systems and the economy.

In the United States, the tax resulted in red meat costing 34% more and the price of processed meat soaring by 163%.

As a result, consumption of unprocessed meat was predicted to remain unchanged by 2020. 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.

Regular consumption of processed meat has also been linked to a 9% higher risk of breast cancer, according to an analysis of various scientific studies that was published in October.

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.

"A tax on red meat would be a retrograde step, both for overall diet quality in women and girls and for health inequalities".

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

"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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