A report from a group of health professional bodies advocates introducing a tax on red meat in order to reduce the speed of climate change and make our population healthier. They suggest that, unless the food industry adopts its own measures, this new tax should be in place by 2025.

Who wrote the report?

There is a new group made up of existing professional bodies that represent professionals in the health sector. It’s called the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) and includes the British Medical Association, The Lancet, and 10 royal colleges of nursing and medicine. They are working together to look at the correlation between the climate change emergency and human health.

The UKHACC have written a report with several recommendations which will have the dual benefit of decreasing illness by encouraging healthier diets and reducing the environmental cost of certain food production.

What are the recommendations?

The headline grabbing ‘meat tax’ on red meat is just one of their recommendations. Others include:

  • Make sure that food in hospitals, care homes and schools meets a minimum environmental standard. That’s a total budget of £2bn, potentially spent with climate change in mind.
  • Make sure that food labels clearly show the environmental footprint of the items, so consumers can make more informed choices.
  • End the ‘Buy 1, get 1 free’ offers on food that are unhealthy for us and the environment, and on perishable foods. The idea of the latter, is to reduce unnecessary food waste.

How does taxing red meat help the climate change emergency?

Evidence from several scientific studies into greenhouse gases determine that a quarter of all emissions are caused by our food production. Plant based foods generate far less impact than the red meat and dairy industries. If the food industry can’t organise its own regulations that improve the situation, a tax on shoppers is one way to reduce consumption.

The UKHACC point to the successful impact of the government’s taxes on sugary drinks and single use plastic bags, as supporting evidence for this recommendation.

Is red meat really that unhealthy?

According to all the medical advice, like most things, it’s about balance. In 2018, the World Cancer Research Fund released its report ‘Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective’. In it, they recommend we eat a maximum of 500g of red meat per week. This tallies with the NHS recommendation of 70g per day. The World Cancer Research Fund also advises to completely avoid processed meats. This is because they find “convincing” evidence that processed and red meats are causes of bowel cancer.

People in wealthier countries often eat much more than this recommended amount and only one third of Britons eat their 5-a-day portions of vegetables and fruit.

So, in health terms, reduction of red meat and processed meats is beneficial to our overall health. But it is only one part of the picture.

But we don’t all want to be vegan

Co-author of the UKHACC report, Kristin Bash, told the Guardian that they weren’t suggesting everyone should become vegan, but “It’s just saying increase your consumption of plant protein. It’s a simple message and something that’s widely supported by health organisations around the world. We can’t reach our goals without addressing our food system. The climate crisis isn’t something we should see as far in the future. It’s time to take these issues seriously now.”

Obviously, while the scientific facts are pretty straightforward, the implementation of large-scale change will take negotiation and time. Time which the climate change emergency suggests we don’t have.

We’ll have to wait and see what the food industry, government and ourselves as consumers do to protect the health of the planet and ourselves.