A Red Meat Tax Could Save Lives, New Research Shows

Taxing red meat would raise billions of dollars to contribute to healthcare.
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A Red Meat Tax Could Save Lives, New Research Shows

New research shows that taxing red meat could save 220,000 lives and raise $170 billion to contribute to healthcare systems around the world.

The research, which was conducted at Oxford University and published in the journal Plos One, showed that such taxes would likely reduce meat consumption by 16 percent worldwide.

Researchers determined the necessary tax to offset healthcare costs incurred by the consumption of red meat in over 100 countries, based on local healthcare systems and norms for meat consumption. They found that the U.S. would need to tax unprocessed red meat, like bacon and sausage, at a rate of 163 percent; unprocessed red meat, meanwhile, would be taxed at 34 percent.

The UK's rates were slightly lower: 79 percent for processed red meat and 14 percent for unprocessed.

“The results are dramatic for processed meat,” said lead researcher Marco Springmann at the University of Oxford. “Bacon is really one of the unhealthiest food products that is out there.”

The World Health Organization declared processed red meat to be a carcinogen in 2015; unprocessed red meat was dubbed a probable carcinogen. Meat has also been linked to coronary heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The study authors estimate that by 2020, 2.4 million deaths will be linked to meat consumption worldwide.

“Given the negative health impacts,” writes Springmann for The Conversation, “there have been calls for certain types of meat to be regulated similar to other carcinogens – such as tobacco or asbestos – or like other foods of public health concern – such as sugary drinks.”

“The recent sugar tax has shown the UK government’s willingness to tax foods when there is a sound rationale for doing so," Rob Bailey, a researcher at the Chatham House think tank and not part of the research team, tells the Guardian. "I would argue that there are strong grounds for taxing meat. I find it hard to imagine a meat tax will not be implemented within the next decade.”

Meat production also contributes to climate change, generating 18 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions – more than the entire transportation sector. One recent research review found that reducing one's meat and dairy consumption was the "single biggest way" to reduce one's impact on the environment.

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