Meat is taxing the planet, so we should tax meat

Meat is taxing the planet, so we should tax meat
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Germany must have a crystal ball. Just a day before the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report urging people to eat less meat in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and protect tropical forests, German lawmakers proposed raising the country's tax on meat from 7 percent to 19 percent in an attempt to decrease consumption. Other countries, including Denmark and Sweden, are also likely to enact a tax on meat both to protect the environment and to improve human health and animal welfare.

Which begs the question: What is the U.S. waiting for?

America tops the charts — along with Australia, New Zealand and Argentina— when it comes to meat consumption. Although more and more people are embracing vegan foods, the average American still eats more than 200 pounds of meat per year.

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"Holy cow!" is right. Taxing meat to lower consumption levels is the least we should do. We can't continue to eat meat as if there were no repercussions, because there are — in the form of heatwaves, floods, wildfires, food shortages and much more.

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation and habitat loss. The IPCC says that, if deforestation is left unchecked, much of the remaining Amazon rainforest — which is currently burning at an unprecedented rate — could turn into desert, releasing more than 50 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Meat consumption is taxing the planet. That's why Goldsmiths, University of London, just announced that it will no longer serve beef on campus. Taxing meat is a good first step, but if we really want to curb climate change, stop the destruction of the world's rainforests and halt other environmental ills, we must opt for vegan foods rather than animal-based ones.

A U.S. study shows that animal-derived foods are responsible for nearly 84 percent of diet-related greenhouse-gas emissions. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds each make up less than 3 percent of food-related emissions.

An IPCC ecologist is calling on politicians to give consumers incentives to eat vegan foods rather than meat. If the government were to levy an excise tax on every pound of meat — as well as on each dairy item and carton of eggs — it would give people yet another reason to choose vegan foods. The tax revenue could be used to fund vital health programs or on efforts to warn people about the environmental consequences of eating animal-based foods. 

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Chatham House, an international think tank, believes that a meat tax would be one of the "most effective" ways to reduce meat consumption and bring about public health benefits. Oxford University researchers calculated the rate at which meat should be taxed in 149 nations — taking into account the amount of meat eaten and the amount of money paid in healthcare costs — and found that the U.S. would have among the highest rates, but the higher prices could result in a great deal of savings for everyone.

The researchers estimate that the proposed taxes would result in 220,000 fewer deaths per year and save $41 billion in annual healthcare costs. They would also prompt a 16 percent reduction in the amount of processed meat eaten around the world, which would then cut global greenhouse-gas emissions by 110 million tons per year.

And if people stopped eating so much meat and other animal-based foods, it would also save countless animals and spare them enormous pain and suffering.

Pretty impressive savings, wouldn't you say? So, let's follow Germany's lead and put a meat tax on the table. 

Ingrid Newkirk is president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA.