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9 Nov, 2020 07:36

A tax on meat to save the planet? British health experts call for new levies on food with heavy environmental impact

A tax on meat to save the planet? British health experts call for new levies on food with heavy environmental impact

A carbon tax should be introduced for food producers by 2025, a group of UK health professions has said, stressing that food production accounts for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions.

It is impossible to “keep global temperatures at safe levels” without paying attention to the food industry, both in terms of production and consumption, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) said in a report released last week. The association represents several colleges of medicine and nursing, the British Medical Association as well as medical journal the Lancet among other groups.

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One of the incentives proposed by the alliance to save the planet is to switch to a climate-friendly diet. This includes, among other measures, trimming red meat consumption in favor of plant-based protein as they claim meat production is one of the major contributors to emissions. According to data cited in the report, the food system will be “within sustainable environmental limits” only if red meat consumption is cut by half.

Another proposal says that all food producers should be targeted by a food carbon tax. The levy is set to be based on the carbon footprint of their products, and should be introduced in five years if the industry fails to take “voluntary action” on its climate impact. The group stressed that such fiscal measures have proven to be an effective tool, citing the so-called ‘Sugar Tax’ and levies on plastic bags as successful examples. 

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While the tax stops short of pointing at any manufacturers in particular, meat producers may be hit hard as livestock produce methane (CH4), which is even worse for the ozone layer, and nitrous oxide (N2O). 

The UKHACC says that the impact of such a tax on UK farmers could be reduced by offering subsidies for encouraging biodiversity and afforestation. However, the measure may eventually end up on the shoulders of consumers as producers may simply hike prices instead of reducing their climate impact, the report warns.

Other measures proposed by the group include mandatory environmental labeling for food and reducing food waste, including by eliminating the practice of ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ promotions for unhealthy and perishable foods.

“We can’t reach our goals without addressing our food system,” said Kristin Bash, a co-author of the UKHACC report. “The climate crisis isn’t something we should see as far in the future. It’s time to take these issues seriously now.”

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