Denmark’s Council of Ethics: tax beef

Independent body that polices Danish ethical issues recommends climate tax to limit consumption of ‘inarguably most destructive’ food 

Cattle in a feedlot

Consumers can’t be trusted to curb their own consumption of red meat and must be encouraged to do so through the introduction of a climate tax. That’s the conclusion of a report by the Danish Council of Ethics that will mean the government of Denmark will soon be debating measures to ensure the price of beef more accurately reflects its disproportionately damaging impact on the environment.

After considering the issue of meat eating for six months, the council concluded that Danish citizens have an ethical obligation to eat less meat and that the choice must be made on their behalf. “Danes are ethically obligated to change their eating habits,” said the council, an independent body that advises public authorities. It added, however, that relying on consumers to change their own diets “will not be effective”.

Given the pressing need to tackle man-made climate change, as well as to meet the country’s commitments under the COP21 climate talks in Paris last year, the council says Danish people must be encouraged to take the “unproblematic” step of cutting beef out of their diets. A significant majority of the council – 14 out of 17 members – concluded that a tax on beef was the best way to achieve that.

Red meat, the council said, was “inarguably [the] most destructive” food in environmental terms. Highlighting this fact, it said food production was responsible for emitting up to 29 per cent of harmful greenhouse gases worldwide, and the livestock industry alone responsible for 10 per cent of global emissions.

“The Danish way of life is far from climate-sustainable, and if we are to live up to the Paris agreement target of keeping the global temperature rise ‘well’ below 2°C, it is necessary both to act quickly and involve food,” said the council’s spokesman, Mickey Gjerris. “An effective response to climate-damaging foods that will also contribute to raising awareness of climate change must be united, which requires that society sends a clear signal through regulation.”

As well as recommending that Denmark adopts a beef tax, the council said that it would hope to see a more wide-ranging tax on all foodstuffs with a high carbon cost introduced in future.