Commentary: A meat tax is probably inevitable – here’s how it could work

LEVELLING THE PLAYING FIELD

Other types of regulation, such as stricter rules on managing animal feed or manure more sustainably, run the risk of putting domestic livestock farmers at a disadvantage compared to competitors from abroad who are not burdened with the additional costs of complying with these rules.

This is why a form of “border adjustment”, as economists call it, is also necessary to include products from overseas.

A tax levied on any firm selling meat – including restaurants and cafes as well as supermarkets – in a given country would capture all meat producers. Other research indicates that consumers are typically more supportive of environmental taxes of this nature if they are phased in with a lower tax rate initially.

Some of the revenue raised by the tax could be given directly to farmers, leaving them with higher profits than before. This could be paid according to their work stewarding the land, restoring habitats like peat bogs.

Or, it could help them invest in the transition to new income streams, such as producing high-quality, organic meat from low-density herds which, when consumed in much lower quantities, may still be compatible with emissions targets.

Taking steps to make plant-based foods more affordable and meat substitutes more attractive will pave the way for a future in which it’s possible to make meat and dairy much more expensive. The good news is that – once their time has come – meat taxes could actually help us eat better, at lower cost.

If implemented correctly, a meat tax could protect the environment, while helping secure a sustainable future for livestock farmers, as well as affordable and sustainable food for all.

Cameron Hepburn is Professor of Environmental Economics at University of Oxford. Franziska Funke is Associate Doctoral Researcher in Environmental Economics at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

This commentary first appeared in The Conversation.