Meat Tax Would Save Millions of Lives and Billions of Dollars, Say Oxford Scientists

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New research from Oxford University finds that taxing red meat and processed meat could prevent over 200,000 deaths a year and offset billions in health care costs associated with meat consumption.

The study published on Nov. 6 in the journal PLOS One outlines the known health risks of red and processed meat consumption, including increased mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Eating red and processed meat has also been declared to be “probably carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization.

The study estimates that by 2020, red and processed meat consumption will lead to health care costs that could reach $285 billion and be associated with 2.4 million deaths globally. The scientists recommended using new taxes to increase the cost of red meat by more than 20% and the price of processed meats by 100% in high-income countries.

According to the research, the implementation of a tax on consumption could recoup about $172 billion of those health care costs annually. Perhaps more importantly, researchers assert that the higher cost of red meat due to the new tax would discourage people from eating as much red meat and result in 222,000 fewer deaths annually. The study found that taxing red meat would lead to increases in poultry consumption, and to a lesser extent milk and eggs. The study did not look at how plant-based and vegetarian diet options may be impacted as a result of the tax.

Marco Springmann, lead author of the study, concedes that “nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” however “the healthcare costs incurred by eating red meat are often paid by all taxpayers… It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds. It is not about taking something away from people, it is about being fair.”

In response to the Oxford study, Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs rejected the idea of taxing red meat, arguing that it is the “same combination of junk science and dodgy economics that led to the sugar tax. An unholy alliance of ‘public health’ campaigners, environmentalists and vegetarians will be working night and day to make this happen. It would be absurd to raise the cost of living again with a meat tax… Taxing food is the next battleground for the nanny state.”


Sources:

Damian Carrington, “Taxing Red Meat Would Save Many Lives, Research Shows,” theguardian.com, Nov. 6, 2018

Institute of Economic Affairs, “The IEA Reacts to the Proposed ‘Sin Tax’ on Red Meat,” iea.org.uk (accessed Nov. 16, 2018)

Laura Paddison, “A Meat Tax Could Get America to Ditch Bacon and Burgers,” huffingtonpost.com, Nov. 7, 2018

Marco Springmann, Daniel Mason-D’Croz, and Sherman Robinson, et al., “Health-Motivated Taxes on Red and Processed Meat: A Modelling Study on Optimal Tax Levels and Associated Health Impacts,” journals.plos.org, Nov. 6, 2018

Chloe Taylor, “Health Experts Propose a Red Meat Tax to Recoup $172 Billion in Health Care-Costs,” cnbc.com, Nov. 7, 2018