This approach to taxation applies nowhere more reasonably than greenhouse-gas-intensive commodities—also referred to as a meat tax, since animal agriculture is notoriously environmentally costly. A meat tax is not yet among the most pressing political issues of the day, but this week, a preliminary report from an investor initiative known Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return warned that a tax on meat is becoming “increasingly probable.”
The initiative looks at the impact of agriculture on the environment and how it will shape markets. The analysts cite the global popularity of “behavioral taxes” to nudge people to achieve social ends and decrease overall taxes—by reducing societal costs of such things as sugar and tobacco and carbon emissions—and argue that meat “is on the same path,” driven by “a global consensus around meat’s negative contributions to climate change and global-health epidemics such as obesity, cancer, and antibiotic resistance.”
Livestock has been estimated to account for around 15 percent of human-related greenhouse gases, and animal agriculture is water-intensive and space-inefficient. Over the next three decades, meat consumption is projected to increase by 75 percent.
The is based in part on research from the University of Oxford, where the food-policy researcher Marco Springmann and colleagues calculated that eliminating animal protein from the global food system would save $1.6 trillion in environmental costs by 2050. Springmann noted in a press statement that taxing meat “would send a strong signal that dietary change toward more healthy and sustainable plant-based diets is urgently needed to preserve both our health and the environment.”
A similar forecast came in 2015 from Chatham House, a London-based policy institute. “Shifting diets will require comprehensive strategies,” the authors wrote, “sending a powerful signal to consumers that reducing meat consumption is beneficial and that government takes the issue seriously.” The institute’s director of energy, environment, and resources, Rob Bailey, told The Guardian this week that he would “expect to see meat taxes accumulate” over the next 10 to 20 years. An author of the new Collier analysis put the timeframe at five to 10 years.
In places, this is already underway. Earlier this year, Germany’s environmental agency expressed interest in increasing taxes on meat, eggs, and cheese from 7 to 19 percent. The Danish Council on Ethics also recently recommended a meat tax to help the country achieve its obligations to the United Nations.
Any such approach would seem extremely unlikely in the United States, which has removed itself from a position of leadership in the global attack on climate change, and which subsidizes meat production rather than taxing it.
The United States has proved deeply divided on taxing even soda—which has neither nutritional value nor such deep-rooted cultural importance.