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Comment: Is a meat tax ‘inevitable’ to beat climate change and health crises?

So-called “sin taxes” on meat to reduce its impact on climate change and human health look “inevitable”, according to a recent report by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) investor network.

Taxes have been used to deter sugar consumption, smoking, and carbon dioxide emissions but the next global levey could hit your beef burger. 

So-called “sin taxes” on meat to reduce its impact on climate change and human health look “inevitable”, according to a recent report by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) investor network. 

The forum, which informs investors of the risks involved in intensive livestock farming, has produced a report claiming that meat could soon become subject to a behavioural tax or a “livestock levy.”        

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Jeremy Coller, chief investment officer of Coller Capital and founder of the FAIRR initiative said: "If policymakers are to cover the true cost of livestock epidemics like avian flu and human epidemics like obesity, diabetes and cancer, while also tackling the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance, then a shift from subsidisation to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable.”

The global livestock industry causes 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations, and meat consumption is continuing to rise across the world. 

The World Health Organization has also warned that the overconsumption of processed meats may also pose health risks including an increased risk of cancer.

Plant-based alternatives to meat are increasingly capturing a large market share, driven by ethical and environmental concerns as well as an increasing trend towards vegetarian food in Western diets. 

Indeed, according to a Nielson Co. global survey, about 4 in 10 Americans and Canadians are actively trying to incorporate more plant-based food into their diets. 

Plant-based alternatives have seen a series of investments in recent months as the food and beverage industry taps into this growing trend. 

In its most recent round of funding, plant-based burger maker Beyond Meat (who make the meat-free burger that bleeds) raised a further $55mn in funding, with notable investors including Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

The Los Angeles-based company has also been backed by Tyson Foods, the largest US meat company by sales. 

Industry giant Nestle also bit into the vegetarian market with its acquisition of Sweet Earth Foods whilst US retailer Walmart has launched Ahimi, a plant-based alternative to raw tuna for its sushi range. 

A meat-free tax would have significant implications for the food sector, however, by investing in plant-based alternatives industry leaders are hoping to prepare for a tax which could be hard to swallow. 

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