Health Experts Propose a “Meat Tax” to Save Lives, Recoup Costs

Health Experts Propose a “Meat Tax” to Save Lives, Recoup Costs
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Oxford researchers said on November 7 that taxing meat could help off-set healthcare costs and save hundreds of thousands of lives. Additionally, taxing red and processed meat could allow hundreds of billions of dollars to be put toward healthcare costs each year, they suggest. [1]

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A study from the U.K. university looking into optimal tax levels for red and processed meats in almost 150 countries and regions found that in high-income countries, red meat prices would need to be increased by more than 20%, while processed meats would need to more than double in price.

Those levels would rake in an estimated $172 billion per year globally and cover 70% of the healthcare costs associated with consuming red and processed meats. The tax would need to be doubled in order to cover the full costs.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans.” [2]

Meat consumption has been linked to kidney cancer, and has been shown to worsen the prognosis for people with colon cancer. Processed meat, in particular, has been linked to a significantly increased risk of pancreatic cancer, as well as breast cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also linked red and processed meat to coronary heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. [1]

The authors of the study estimate that in 2020, the consumption of red and processed meat will result in 2.4 million global deaths and a healthcare bill of $285 billion.

In addition to off-setting healthcare costs, the authors said their proposed tax could lead to a 16% decline in the global consumption of meat. This, they say, could be a big boon to the environment, as it would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by over 100 million tons.

Earlier in 2018, an analysis showed that avoiding meat and dairy is the biggest way people can reduce their environmental impact on the planet. The study found, among other things, that if people stopped eating meat and dairy, it could reduce global farmland use by 75% – an area equivalent to the U.S., China, European Union, and Australia combined. [3]

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Read: Do You Agree With Soda Taxes? Sugar Consumption Down in Berkeley Due to the Measure

Study leader Marco Springmann said an overconsumption of red and processed meat had a negative impact on many countries. [1]

“I hope that governments will consider introducing a healthy levy on red and processed meat as part of a range of measure to make healthy and sustainable decision-making easier for consumers.

Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat. However, our findings make it clear that the consumption of red and processed meat has a cost, not just to people’s health and to the planet, but also to the healthcare systems and the economy.”

Springmann and his colleagues compared the proposed tax to those already levied on other health-damaging products such as tobacco, alcohol, and sugar. However, with different laws in different jurisdictions, it could be challenging to implement a global meat tax.

The researchers estimate that a global meat tax would save 220,000 lives, including 53,000 in the United States. Moreover, the tax would result in $41 billion in healthcare savings, including $20 billion in the U.S. [4]

Springmann said:

“Consuming red and processed meat not only affects your health but also the economy at large.”

He cited decreased productivity and care for family members who suffer from chronic disease.

The study is published in the journal PLOS One.


[1] CNBC

[2] International Agency for Research on Cancer

[3] The Guardian

[4] CNN