Science - May 24, 2012

'There is no clear story behind the meat tax idea'

Dutch political parties D66 and the Green Left argue for raising the VAT rate on meat from 6 percent to 19 percent. This meat tax, intended to reduce the environmentally polluting consumption of meat, is not (yet) a good idea, says LEI researcher Hans Dagevos.

'The difficult thing is that red meat is much worse for the environment than white meat. So should you tax chicken differently to beef?  I also wonder whether animal welfare is also going to be brought into it. Should you tax organic chicken, which is already much more expensive, as well? And then there are composite products: how are you going to tax a 310 gram pizza containing 40 grams of ham? In practical terms, I don't see how you can organize it in a good, clear way.
There is no clear story behind the meat tax idea. An overall tax on meat will soon be seen as a moneymaking venture to solve the budget deficit. That is a pretty weak position for a politician. You could also say that we must include the environmental costs in the price of meat. Then you could consider a VAT increase of which the revenue is used to support environmental measures. That way you can show the consumer what is done with the money.
It is too early to introduce a meat tax: a step like that has to be prepared for gradually with publicity and awareness-raising. First you have to tell people more about how polluting meat is - many people don't know this - and explain that you can do perfectly well on 50 to 60 grams of meat per day - people have no idea how much meat is good for you. Without this message there won't be any support for a meat tax.
You see that taxing meat or protein is a recurring theme in some political parties. In Denmark they have introduced a fat tax so that unhealthy fats are more heavily taxed. This is one of the few ways in which politicians can get a grip on the food market. A tax of that kind is token politics, to some extent: a way of imposing some norms on our food economy.'