Tax meat for the global good, say consumers

Chatham House study shows people want and expect governments to intervene to reduce people’s meat consumption

Friesian cattle in front of blue sky standing on green grass

Britons expect the government to take action to curb meat eating and would not be adverse to a “meat tax” to improve human health and protect the environment. That’s the conclusion of a new report by Chatham House and Glasgow University, based on surveys and 36 focus groups in 12 countries around the world.

The report – Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption – highlights that people who are made aware of the harmful effects of meat on people and planet are willing to have restrictions placed on their behaviour, as happened with the smoking ban. And as with the smoking ban, the report suggests any reaction against measures to encourage more meat free eating would be short-lived, given the weight of evidence in favour of greener, cleaner food. It would be a cheap way for the government both to tackle the spiralling obesity crisis and curb carbon emissions, it adds.

The report is topical given the current climate talks taking place in Paris. Experts say that curbing the emissions associated with livestock farming – which currently account for 15 per cent of all greenhouse gases – are key to keeping global warming to within a “safe” 2C rise.

As well as imposing a surcharge on animal products, other solutions to drive down meat-eating could include cutting subsidies to livestock farmers and serving more meat free meals in schools, hospitals and in armed forces canteens.

Lead author Laura Wellesley of Chatham House said that governments were “ignoring what should be a hugely appealing, win-win policy” by refusing to take steps to wean Britain off meat. “The idea that interventions like this are too politically sensitive and too difficult to implement is unjustified,” she said. “Our focus groups show people expect governments to lead action on issues that are for the global good. Our research indicates any backlash to unpopular policies would likely be short-lived as long as the rationale for action was strong.”

Professor Greg Philo of Glasgow University explained that it was important to create “a new public understanding that industrial production of meat is not only dangerous to your own health but to human ecology as a whole.”

As another report by Chatham House made clear last year, global awareness is low of the impact that meat is having on our planet, so it is important that authorities move to educate and protect their citizens. The focus groups agreed that a tax on meat would be the most effective way to encourage people to cut down on the amount of meat they ate, and also that subsidies for livestock farming ought to be stopped. “They felt, particularly in the US, that governments had propped up a very unhealthy food market,” said Catherine Happer of Glasgow University. “An awful lot of people were surprised there were subsidies at all.”

Read the report