– December 31, 2017
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Steak
A tax on this delectable dish is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. (Stu Spivack)

First the taxman came for alcohol. Then he came for cigarettes. Is meat next?

The Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR), an investment-initiative network that serves as a factory-farming watchdog, recently released an executive summary entertaining the idea of  taxing meat on environmental and health grounds. The main reasons touted for a meat tax were:

  • greenhouse gas emissions that exceed emissions from the transport sector;
  • an increasing rate of global obesity and associated higher risks of type 2 diabetes and cancer;
  • increasing levels of antibiotic resistance;
  • threats to global food security and water availability;
  • soil degradation and deforestation.

FAIRR is not alone in this meat-tax crusade. The Danish government has already considered a resolution on meat taxes and Chatham House has followed suit by urging the UK government to tax meat in the fight against global warming.

In the face of growing momentum for a meat tax, one must ask: are these proposals rooted in sound science and policymaking?

In 2006, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) published Livestock’s Long Shadow, a report contending that meat production accounted for 18 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions.

However, Frank Mitloehner at the University of California at Davis, contested this assertion by pointing out various flaws in the original emission calculations. According to Mitloehner, the FAO’s original analysis led to an “apples-and-oranges analogy that truly confused the issue” and gave the initial impression that meat production produced higher greenhouse emissions than transportation.

Similarly, Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, questioned popular narratives on meat consumption and its effects on the environment. Teicholz raises a valid point in the FAQ section:  

The cultivation of livestock is an ancient practice: Abel was a shepherd, and on the Parthenon friezes are ancient Greeks walking their cows to the festival of Athena. Humans domesticated animals so that they could have a convenient source of protein without having to hunt.… It’s simply hard to believe that raising livestock could be the cause of global warming, especially when you look at what has changed in recent decades: industrialization, loss of nature to cities, the proliferation of cars and factories, etc.

Additionally, Teicholz did an exceptional job of illustrating how reduced consumption in dietary fat, especially from red meat, along with the increase of sugar and processed carb consumption in the United States has led to unprecedented levels of cardiovascular disease and obesity among the American populace.

Regardless of where one stands on the ethical and health concerns of meat eating, the argument that it has a negative impact on human health is debatable at best.

Meat has been a fixture of human nutrition since time immemorial. Levying taxes on it would have deleterious consequences for millions of American consumers, especially those of humbler means.

The creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has fostered an environment of non-stop intervention where governments at all levels have overstepped their boundaries by intervening in the food sector through a myriad of bans, subsidies, and taxes. Make no mistake about it, meat will be the next victim if the government’s encroachments are not thwarted.

What the United States really needs is a complete separation of food and state. Consumers should be free to decide which foods they decide to eat, and governments should stop distorting food markets with their regulations.

It’s high time that we get government out of our kitchens.

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José Niño

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