Food Politics: Should Meat be Taxed like Sugar?


by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

You’ve probably seen the news that researchers from the University of Oxford are proposing a tax on red and processed meat.

But this isn’t the first time that a tax on food items has been proposed. In April 2018, a sugar tax was introduced in the UK, on drinks containing more than 5 grams of sugar per 100ml. Many countries also tax alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

The connection between all these consumables? They are all said to have negative effects on our health, increasing the healthcare cost burden. 

What Are the Health Risks of Meat Consumption?

In 2015, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen (meaning it can cause cancer in humans) and red meat as a Group 2A carcinogen (which means it probably causes cancer in humans).

But just because something is labelled as a carcinogen, that doesn’t mean it will definitely cause cancer. The amount consumed, how often it is eaten, and individual genetics all play important roles. You can learn more about the link between red meat and cancer in this Red Meat and Cancer Risk course.

It’s also not just cancer risk we need to think about. High red and processed meat consumption may also increase risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

How Much Would the Proposed Tax Be?

Since processed and red meat consumption varies globally, the tax would depend on the country and their healthcare cost burden from red and processed meat. For example, in high-income countries (like the US), the researchers predict that a 111.17% price change for processed meat would be necessary to offset the healthcare costs, whilst in upper-middle income countries (like the UK) a 46.85% price increase would be necessary.

For red meat, the price change would be smaller: 21.36% for high-income countries and 6.51% for upper-middle income countries.

The proposed tax varies from 0.2% to 185% for processed meat depending on the region (Springmann et al., 2018).

What Do YOU Think?

There is evidence to suggest that taxing processed and red meat could change behaviour, lower consumption, and reduce cancer risk. But we don’t actually know if it will work in practice.

Plus, should the government be the one to decide which foods we should eat – or should it be an individual’s decision?

Should processed and red meat be taxed?

Take our poll below and let us know what you think!

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The-Health-Sciences-Academy-Alejandra-Ruani-small1-right Alejandra "Alex" Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for their students. She is a Harvard-trained scientist and UCL doctoral researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups.

Connect with Alex via email.

4 Comments

  • Chris

    Reply Reply November 12, 2018

    No, but we should stop subsidizing animal feed and low quality foodstuffs.

  • Tamara

    Reply Reply November 15, 2018

    Stop torturing and killing animals for food.
    Let the animals live happy lives.
    Always choose compassion, Always choose VEGAN!

  • Vershaun Morris

    Reply Reply November 15, 2018

    My daughter is vegan

  • janet owl

    Reply Reply November 15, 2018

    Hi
    Taxing processed meats and red meats will not reduce consumption of these products much like the fast food industry. Education is key. It starts at the school age children so they may be wiser when they achieve independence. Education for adults, nutrition clinics for prevention rather than walk in for curative. Stop advertising on tv and internet.
    Bring back nutrition curriculum in the schools, as early as SK. Schools should be growing foods. Farmers can stop force feeding animals for market. Support local farmers. Take individual responsibility for what you eat and what you feed your family.

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