Food Politics: Should Meat be Taxed like Sugar?


by Dr Michelle de la Vega, PhD — 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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10 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.

  • Chris

    Reply Reply November 22, 2018

    Education is most definately key. We need to educate ourselves on the research and the risk increase. I have thoroughly researched the risk and investigated the studies.

    firstly, red Meat and processed meat should not be mentioned in the same article. They are entirely different and clasified in different groups, both in terms of risk and in terms of food group.

    Secondly, The 2a group is defined as : ” An agent may be classified in this group when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans ”

    There is in fact VERY little evidence that red meat causes cancer. Even in animal studies the evidence is very poor.

    Almost all of the research is from epidemiological studies which are also notoriously poor. In fact the studies have also been shown to not account for other confounding lifestyle factors, like sugar consumption for instance, level of stress, exercise level or the consumption of transfats. Targeting Red Meat in these studies is extremely dubious.

    Secondly, these studies also showed an extremely minor percentage increase in the risk.

    If we say that the increase risk caused by red meat is 50% (it is actually 18%) That is still so microscopically small that it hardly registers. Lets to the math.

    Lets say a certain cancer has an incidence rate of 1/10,000 in the population.

    A 50% increase in risk would make the riske : 1.5/10,000

    Compare this to smoking, which has an increase risk of cancer of 1900%.

    As a health science academy, I would have assumed that you would have actually done the research on red meat consumption and the implications of the current findings.

    Thanks.

  • Helene

    Reply Reply November 22, 2018

    Very stupid to put unhealthy processed meat in the same category as healthy grass fed meat – the latter in small quantities is healthy and providing vit B 12 that vegans have to substitute – Alex are you promoting veganism?

    • Hi Helene, thanks for sharing your opinion.

      If you’ve known us for a while, you’d know that we advocate PERSONALISED nutrition.

      As nutrition professionals, it’s important that we don’t push for one universal diet.

      That said, respect for your vegan nutrition clients is critical (as long as you support them to mitigate deficiency risks). And so is respect for meat eaters or any kind of ethical or cultural food choice.

      Unlike most forums you see out there, we want to encourage a healthy debate that nurtures the conversation but doesn’t offend.

      P.S. Alex isn’t vegan. But we do have vegans in our team. We also have meat eaters, and all kinds of diets.

      Caroline

  • Iris Schmidt

    Reply Reply November 22, 2018

    I voted no. Processed meat or red meat should not be taxed.

    But I also known from the courses I’ve taken from Alex and health sciences academy that they are super objective and unbiased. They would never promote single diets. Not that I am aware.
    Some people get way too agitated defending their dietary beliefs and rude. Having an opinion doesn’t mean you have to fight everyone trying to convince them. Peace!✌ Xx

  • Dr Mark Dawson, Ph.D.

    Reply Reply November 22, 2018

    Thanks, this is a balanced article and doesn’t bias you one way or another. It clearly states the differences between red and processed meat, and that the tax proposal stems from the opinion of Harvard researchers who can clearly get media attention with such a provocative thought.

    I don’t think red or processed meats are worth being taxed, but there are indeed issues we need to tackle when it comes to food-chain sustainability and environment.

    I’ve been studying several certifications and courses with you for CPD purposes and I know how well you present all sides of the argument in the learning materials, which is always refreshing.

    This is more a matter of public opinion than science. Those who want to get the science, do take the academy’s courses and get your hands on the full body of evidence. They’re clear and don’t try to brainwash you like many other providers leveraging the China Study or other epi research.

    Keep up the great work!

    Mark

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