According to new research, climate taxes levied on animal-based food products could be instrumental in reducing carbon emissions and improving the health of millions, saving more than half a million lives a year.
The suggested taxes are hefty—including 40 percent on beef and 20 percent on dairy—but the researchers say it’s what’s needed to offset the damage done in producing and consuming animal products. Taxes on other animal products include 15 percent on lamb, 8.5 percent on chicken, 7 percent on pork, 5 percent on eggs, as well as 25 percent on vegetable oil because of its currently low commodity pricing.
“Food production causes a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming, largely from the raising of cattle and other livestock,” reports the Guardian. “These emissions are increasing as people around the world become richer and eat more meat.”
Like sin taxes on cigarettes and now soda—which four cities just passed in elections earlier this week—the researchers say these taxes are essential.
“[I]f you’d have to pay 40 percent more for your steak, you might choose to have it once a week instead of twice,” Marco Springmann, from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, who led the study, told the Guardian.
“It is clear that if we don’t do something about the emissions from our food system, we have no chance of limiting climate change below 2C.”
The researchers looked at the types of food and their impacts on the climate to aid in the tax metrics, as well as comparable plant-based foods offering the same caloric gain. The 40 percent tax on beef, for example, took into consideration deforestation and methane emissions connected to cattle raising.
Comparing the meat or dairy products to fruits and vegetables, the research, published in the forthcoming issue of the journal Nature Climate Change, also factored in helping poorer people to better afford healthy foods.
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The reduced climate emissions, were the taxes to be adopted, are significant—accounting for as much as one billion tons per year. It’s the equivalent of taking every airplane out of the sky for the same time period.
“Changes to how food is produced and consumed have largely been ignored in the battle against climate change, due to public sensitivity about their food choices, fears about increasing hunger in poorer parts of the world and the lack of straightforward measures to tackle the problem,” reports the Guardian.
And just like there’s been significant resistance efforts to thwart soda taxes across the U.S., there would most certainly be industry-wide efforts to resist taxes to meat and dairy.
“If people see any food price rise, they get angry, so you have to explain why you are doing it,” said Springmann. And while the pushback from the meat and dairy industries could make it difficult to get off the ground, once the taxes showed success—much like Mexico and Berkeley, Calif., have done with their recent soda taxes—it’s possible more and more cities and countries could be successful in implementing climate taxes on these foods.
“Most of the foods with big climate impacts also happen to be unhealthy when eaten in large quantities, such as beef and dairy, reports the Guardian. “Therefore, if climate taxes cut consumption, fewer people would die from related diseases such as heart disease, strokes and cancers. [The] climate taxes would save more than half a million early deaths every year, largely in Europe, the US, Australia and China.”
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image: istock.com/Steve Debenport