80% meat tax could save 6,000 lives a year

Research conducted by the University of Oxford suggests that raising the tax on meat by 80% could prevent nearly 6,000 deaths a year and save the NHS more than £734m

The study found that in high income countries, red meat would need to be 20% more expensive and processed meat would need to more than double in price to account for the health costs associated with its consumption, but that the impact could be achieved with lower taxes in poorer countries where meat consumption is generally lower.

The researchers calculated ‘economically optimal tax levels for 149 world regions that would account for (internalise) the health costs associated with ill-health from red and processed meat consumption’, combining this with a modelling framework to estimate the impacts of increased taxation on levels of consumption, health costs and non-communicable disease mortality.

They found that the global health-related costs to society directly and indirectly attributable to high meat consumption in 2020 would likely amount to $285bn (£217bn), three-quarters of which ‘were due to processed meat consumption’.

Using the model, they found that optimal taxation would lower consumption of processed meat by an average of 16%, while the consumption of red meat would remain stable ‘as substitution for processed meat compensated price-related reductions’. This reduction was predicated on a price percentage increase dependent on the relative income levels of a country, with only a 1% increase in processed meat costs in low-income countries and over 100% in high-income countries.

The impact of this tax would be to reduce the number of deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption by an average of 9% and reduce attributable health costs by 14%, approximately $41bn globally.  

In comparison, tax revenues amounted to $172bn, 'two-thirds (64%) of which came from high-income countries, a sixth to a fifth (16–20%) from middle-income countries, and less than 1% from low-income countries'. This meant that the healthcare-related costs under taxation 'exceeded tax revenues by 42% on average, ranging from 22% in lower middle-income countries to 50% in high-income countries'.

The study, Health-motivated taxes on red and processed meat: a modelling study on optimal tax levels and associated health impacts, was conducted by Dr Marco Springmann, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, and the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford.

In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified the consumption of red meat, which includes beef, lamb and pork, as carcinogenic to humans if eaten in processed form, and ‘probably carcinogenic’ if eaten unprocessed.

Report by James Bunney

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