Meat tax could save thousands of lives and slash healthcare costs

Leslie Hanson
November 7, 2018

Three years ago, the World Health Organization declared red meat such as beef, lamb and pork to be carcinogenic when eaten in processed forms, including sausages, bacon and beef jerky. Foods such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs, ham, salami, and pepperoni can be classed as such.

The WHO also classifies red meat as probably carcinogenic - even if eaten unprocessed. But the healthcare costs incurred by eating red meat are often paid by all taxpayers, he said: "It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds".

But in China optimal tax levels were much lower - 7% on red meat and 43% on processed meat, the study found.

A so-called "meat tax" could save nearly 6,000 lives in the United Kingdom every year and contribute more than £700m to the economy through reduced healthcare costs, researchers have claimed.

Dr Marco Springmann, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Nuffield Department of Population Health, who worked on the study, said: "The consumption of red and processed meat exceeds recommended levels in most high- and middle-income countries".

Governments around the world have already shown a willingness to tax products that have been linked with health problems, including cigarettes, alcohol and sugar.

Media captionDr Marco Springmann tells Today eating only one portion of red meat a week could help tackle global warming How could a tax work? With reduced consumption of red meat, the study, published on November 6, claims there would be 220,000 fewer deaths from chronic disease per year around the world.

High-income countries, such as the United Kingdom and the USA consume about double the global average of red and processed meat.

"Chronic disease prevention would be far more effective if it focused on smoking, excess drinking, and body weight rather than a single food source like meat, which brings many nutritional benefits".


Because of this difference in health costs, the health taxes would need to differ by region, to factor in the health and economic burden of red and processed meat consumption in a specific region. "The tax is higher in the USA due to an inefficient health system that wastes a lot of money", said Springmann.

Now a standard 681g pack of 12 pork sausages from Tesco costs £1.09. Fresh burgers and mince are not considered to be processed meats. Due to its relatively modest healthcare spending the United Kingdom is somewhere in the middle with an 80% increase.

"Red meat provides valuable nutrients, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D and B vitamins".

The research indicated that a health tax could reduce consumption of processed meat by around two portions per week in high-income countries like the UK.

The likely impact of a meat tax on death rates due to chronic disease was also estimated.

We found that it could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by over a hundred million tonnes - mainly due to lower beef consumption.

Scientists at the University of Oxford say governments should consider imposing price hikes on red meat - such as beef, lamb and pork - to reduce consumption.

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 healthcare systems and the economy.

While some welcomed the proposal on Twitter, others told HuffPost UK they're unconvinced, raising concerns that a meat tax would penalise the poorest in society and not necessarily lead people towards healthier choices.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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