A meat tax need not hit the poor

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

The aca­demic ev­i­dence is clear on a num­ber of fronts that meat pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion need to change (MPs should ‘se­ri­ously con­sider’ meat tax, says Lu­cas, 4 Jan­uary). Health gains from re­duc­ing red and pro­cessed meat con­sump­tion are well doc­u­mented. Meat adds to the bur­den of non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease.

Its pro­duc­tion is a key driver of an­timi­cro­bial re­sis­tance. The scale of meat con­sump­tion must be re­versed.

We do not un­der­es­ti­mate the po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ity. UK farm­ers op­er­ate on tight mar­gins and re­ceive too low a pro­por­tion of the money made from food. The muchre­viled com­mon agri­cul­tural pol­icy ac­tu­ally keeps many afloat. But the facts are clear: the UK, like all rich coun­tries, needs a tran­si­tion to more sus­tain­able di­ets. Low meat and dairy con­sump­tion, and more plant-based di­ets, are the fu­ture. This im­plies sig­nif­i­cant land use changes that could be ben­e­fi­cial: lower green­house gas emis­sions and wa­ter and bio­di­ver­sity stress.

Here is some­thing on which the UK, a long-term meat pro­ducer and ac­tu­ally a net meat im­porter, could take a lead. The many op­tions for how a meat tax might op­er­ate re­quire care­ful ex­plo­ration. Might a select com­mit­tee pick up and run with this? Prof Tim Lang Cen­tre for Food Pol­icy, City, Univer­sity of London, Prof

Mike Rayner Nuffield Depart­ment of Pop­u­la­tion Health, Ox­ford Univer­sity

Poppy Noor ar­gues that a meat tax would be re­gres­sive and fail to tackle the cor­po­ra­tions that profit from fac­tory farm­ing (Caroline

Lu­cas is wrong – a meat tax would only hurt the poor, the­guardian.com, 7 Jan­uary). If this idea were to be im­ple­mented in iso­la­tion and with­out care­ful plan­ning, she might be right. But, as I said at the Ox­ford Farm­ing Con­fer­ence last week, a tax is just one part of a com­plex jig­saw, and our whole food sys­tem needs rad­i­cal over­haul, so that no one is de­pen­dent on food banks, farm work­ers are paid a liv­ing wage and our farm­ers’ role as cus­to­di­ans of na­ture is prop­erly recog­nised.

Us­ing the tax sys­tem to dis­cour­age the most un­sus­tain­ably farmed meat – and cru­cially to make more sus­tain­able di­ets more af­ford­able – would need to be part of a range of mea­sures in­clud­ing im­proved ways of man­ag­ing ma­nure and feed, stricter en­vi­ron­men­tal and an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards, ed­u­ca­tion and changes to school and work­place menus.

Any tax would need to be phased in, and give farm­ers the fi­nan­cial sup­port and time to tran­si­tion to more sus­tain­able meth­ods of rear­ing an­i­mals. The rev­enue from such a tax could be used to make plant-based food more af­ford­able. Michael Gove’s agri­cul­ture bill, cur­rently mak­ing its way through par­lia­ment, ought to be the chance to put food and land use at the heart of our think­ing.

Caroline Lu­cas MP

Green, Brighton Pav­il­ion

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