A meat tax need not hit the poor
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