Tax meat?

10154210783938272A tax on red meat is being suggested as the next solution to stop us all dying of, obesity,  bowel cancer and all the other problems that are being suggested relate to red meat in particular. Also, for the perceived impact on the environment.

Plainly we live in a populist time where complicated questions get simple answers, because that is the only way people will understand the solution.

May I suggest otherwise?

Now, I would be the first person to say we don’t pay the right money for our food.  And we absolutely, definitely do not pay the right money for meat.  The price does not reflect the impact on the environment.  Meat pricing is indirectly supported, by direct payments to landowners, which inflates the value of land that off-sets some of the costs of producing.  Other countries with whom our meat competes also subsidise production further distorting the costs.  But again, this is complicated.  So simple answers won’t work.

I would also venture the following; not all meat is created equal.

Hunted meat from sustainable sources, such as wild boar, game and venison, is probably good.  It is healthy, if consumed in moderation, sustainable and potentially enhances the environment.

High-welfare, grass-fed breed specific beef, grown at a sensible rate from suckler herds (not intensive dairy but where cows behave more naturally with their offspring stay with them until weaning)  is probably very good.  In fact, I bet if you searched on-line for the benefits of conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) you would be seriously asking why the stuff isn’t promoted or even prescribed?

Some chicken relies on a lot of imported soya, which in turn can cause potential damage to forestry in other parts of the world, or is contributing to climate change due to the cultivation and nitrogen application and so hurts the environment given the distance around the globe its ingredients have travelled.

That excuse-for-mince that goes to make burgers in cheapskate supermarkets that probably contains a good dose of ‘dobbin’ shouldn’t be fed to dogs never mind tired and emotional people late on a Saturday night from a trailer that sits on a bypass somewhere.   Just because there’s a market for it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

So, what would a tax do?

Apart from feeding the ego of celebrity chefs and a few politicians who are too quick to make ‘popularist’ type decisions it would certainly make food more expensive. It would also raise revenue for the government. A tax would probably inflate the cost of protein generally.

A tax would fail to differentiate between good meat and bad meat; if it didn’t it would probably be in-breech of WTO regulations.  It would once again, hit the very people who suffer poverty of food, food-choices and alternatives.

Yes, it would be lovely if we were all vegetarians 2-3 days/week.  I try to be, along with many others, but then I am lucky because I have the income, time and inclination as well as a wealth of information on which to make healthier choices.  How would taxing meat help there?

A tax doesn’t make you smarter.  It doesn’t offer you more choices.  And it certainly doesn’t make you healthier.  A tax makes you poorer.

Yes, we need to pay more for our food and the costs should be reinvested into better foods and a better environment for that food to be produced in.  I wouldn’t rely on a tax to achieve that.  Would you?

The answer is probably reliant on two different strategies.

  1. One; educate consumers in school and beyond about what meat is, the choices, the technical reasons some are good, and some are not very good at all. Explain how meat is produced and let consumers make informed choices.
  2. Two; Manage the market with regulation and minimum standards that reflect the need for any meat to reflect the true cost. That means that some imported chicken, beef etc will not make it in.  Insisting on standards around welfare, production methods and environmental standards will potentially put the price up.  But that will be a price worth paying if consumers appreciate the value, evaluate the differences and make informed choices.

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