The folly of a meat tax

Many farmers understandably shake their heads at the seemingly endless challenges to their production methods.

A carbon tax is likely to make farming more expensive, the chemicals farmers use are constantly being reviewed, so-called large “industrial” farms are deemed by some to be too corporate and genetically modified foods are suspect in the minds of a large portion of the Canadian public.

So it’s also understandable if farmers’ blood boiled when they learned recently that an Oxford University study recommended governments place a tax on some meats to steer people into “healthy” eating habits and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Red meat, in particular, is taking a beating. The World Health Organization classified it as probably carcinogenic to humans. And Marco Springmann, one of the authors of the Oxford University report, said this recently to the CBC: “Red meat — which includes beef and pork — is in general bad for your health. It increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases like stroke, heart disease, certain cancers, Type 2 diabetes by up to a half or even double the normal amount. So eating red meat is bad in general.”

But beef also has high-quality protein, and it’s a good source of B vitamins, iron and zinc.

There is also the 2006 report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization, which argues, “livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale… The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.”

Nevertheless, even if a food tax tax happened, its utility may be limited. Peter Shawn Taylor, who authored a report called Tax on the Menu for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says it doesn’t work (he studied the effect of taxes on soda in the United States), and he says they are unfair because they target everyone so the majority of those who pay are healthy people.

He also argues a food tax targets the poor, to which Springmann says governments should compensate lower income families and make healthier foods cheaper.

One could argue that a tax on food could work if it is heavy enough — think tobacco — but that isn’t going to happen to food. No Canadian government would survive that.

The food tax debate is worthwhile, but pigs would surely fly before such a tax comes to pass.

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