Energy and Environment

Next Turkey Day, Will We Have a Meat Tax?

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A large international study conducted by the British think tank and policy institute Chatham House has determined that taxing meat wouldn’t cause as much of an uproar as previously believed. The motivations of such a tax would be that it would promote healthier eating, as well as serve as an attempt to combat climate change.

Chatham House’s study surveyed 12 different nations and also conducted focus groups in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, and China. They were attempting to determine how people would react to government policies like higher taxes on meat, as well as cutting subsidies to livestock farmers and introducing more vegetarian meals in public institutions like schools. While they discovered there would be a backlash to these policies in many scenarios–people love their meat–it will most likely be short-lived as long as the rationale for the policies was strong.

This is an important finding, as steps to reduce global consumption of meat may need to be taken soon. The production of livestock is responsible for 15 percent of global emissions–more than the world’s cars, trains, planes, and ships combined. It’s going to get worse, too, as global meat consumption is expected to rise roughly 76 percent over the next 35 years. When countries become richer, they’re more likely to consume more meat. And countries that already consume a lot of meat aren’t really doing so safely. Developed countries eat on average, twice as much meat than what’s considered healthy. Americans are also big offenders–we on average eat roughly three times as much meat as what’s considered healthy. But because of that love of meat, it has traditionally been viewed as a bad move politically to create meat taxes or make it more expensive in any way.

But Chatham House’s research stands in contrast to that hypothesis. Chatham House lead author Laura Wellesley said:

The idea that interventions like this are too politically sensitive and too difficult to implement is unjustified. Our focus groups show people expect governments to lead action on issues that are for the global good. Our research indicates any backlash to unpopular policies would likely be short-lived as long as the rationale for action was strong.

When discussing the possibility of a meat tax, a consistent comparison that’s being made is the evolution of taxation on cigarettes. Once commonplace higher taxes on cigarettes as well as public service campaigns helped decrease the amount of smokers.

While it’s doubtful that we’ll all be taxed on our meat anytime soon, it may be something that’s brought up at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris next week. So, if you’re big meat fan, this may be something to keep an eye on.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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