Industry responds to proposed meat tax
Leading figures from across the industry have responded to a proposal for a meat tax calling it unrealistic, misguided and simplistic.
The report from Chatham House, Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption, claims that reducing meat consumption levels will be critical to keeping global warming levels below two degrees Celsius, which is recognised as the ‘danger level’.
British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) director, Stephen Rossides, however has criticised the report.
“This report seems to be another simplistic ‘eat less meat to save the world’ polemic, and all the more surprising and disappointing to see it emanate from as august a body as Chatham House,” he said.
“The report takes little account of very different livestock production and meat consumption patterns across the world and, consequently, differing environmental impacts. It conflates health issues with environmental ones, and ignores both the positive environmental aspects of livestock production, its economic and social importance to many communities across the world, and the health benefits of eating meat as part of a balanced diet.”
Rossides also rebutted the claim that meat consumption had reached ‘unhealthy’ levels. “In the UK, meat consumption averages 71g per day, in line with the Government’s recommendation of 70g.
“The idea of a meat tax is also simplistic and misguided,” Rossides continued. “As with any economic activity, there are environmental impacts. The meat and livestock industry, both across the world and in this country, is working hard and, with success, to address the negative aspects of livestock production.”
The report suggests that the livestock sector is responsible for 15 per cent of global greenhouse emissions and authors, Laura Wellesley, Catherine Happer and Antony Froggatt, propose that unless strong demand in the growth for meat is cut, livestock sector emissions will increase to the point where dangerous climate change is unavoidable.
Commenting on the report, Professor Ralph Early, the head of Food Science and Agri-Food Supply Chain Management at Harper Adams University said: “By its very nature meat production will always be singled out as the most significant contributor of greenhouse gasses in food production.
“While it is a disconcerting thought to contemplate for those of us who enjoy meat, we may have to accept adjustments to our own consumption patterns brought about by the implementation of national food policy if we are to preserve the planet for future generations.”
According to Andy Hutson, corporate affairs manager for AHDB Beef and Lamb however, the UK livestock production system is one of the most sustainable and efficient in the world.
“In the UK, our rain fed-pasture system means we have one of the most efficient and sustainable livestock production systems in the world. Research suggests that between 1970 and 2010, the beef carbon footprint in England fell by more than a third.”
For Hutson the meat tax is not a “realistic” solution. He added that it could potentially: “Fuel a social divide where poorer families could be priced out of the consumer market, while opening that market to more imports from global competitors.
“The reality is that consumption of beef and lamb in the UK is not as high as historical levels, as protein becomes relatively more expensive in the shopping basket after years of cheap food. For example, per capita consumption in 2000 was 24.7kg. If you look back even further to 1990 it was 26.7kg. In 2014 per capita consumption was 22.4kg. Meanwhile, poultry consumption has grown from 30.5kg in 2000 to 33.0kg in 2014.
“A simplistic suggestion that cutting meat consumption in the UK, in addition to this natural, market driven and ongoing fall in consumption, will make an impact on the world’s environmental issues just doesn’t hold water and, what’s more, it will not improve the efficiency of livestock production in this country,” Hutson concluded.