For years, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has advocated for a tax on meat to sway people toward adopting a vegan diet. When the concept cropped up in the media again recently, I wanted to know how seriously we should take this new push. Probably more seriously than you might think at first.
I spoke with BC Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon, who said the latest round of media stories stemmed from a December essay by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) – a $2.3 trillion dollar investor network that he says represents the interests of crop producers.
LISTEN:BC Cattlemen’s Association responds to PETA’s call for a meat tax
That doesn’t necessarily mean it should be dismissed out of hand, despite the obvious bias: sometimes ideas that appear ludicrous on the surface end up getting political traction and becoming law after years of advocacy. So what does FAIRR say is on the horizon?
According to FAIRR, “meat is on a similar pathway to tobacco, carbon and sugar and it is ‘highly probable’ that some governments will begin to tax it.” As they point out, once there is a “global consensus” that something is harmful to society, taxes are swift to follow.
FAIRR says Belgium’s food guide was revised and now places meat in the same category as chocolate or sweets; the UK food guide recommends plant proteins over meat and dairy, and thought leaders in Denmark and Sweden are already making the arguments for a meat tax to curb climate change.
WATCH BELOW: Danielle Smith offers her perspective on PETA’s call for a meat tax
Notably, the Nordics were the first to introduce a carbon tax in 1990. In Denmark they are proposing a tax of 2.30 euros per kilogram; in Canada, PETA suggests 10 cents a pound as a starting point.
But is there really a “global consensus” that meat (beef, pork, poultry and fish) is harmful to society? Boon doesn’t think so. For one thing, meat remains the very best source of iron in the diet: you’d have to eat about nine cups of raw spinach to get the same amount of iron (But, cooking the spinach makes it easier for the body to absorb the iron).
LISTEN: PETA spokesperson Ashley Bryne tells Danielle Smith why the group is calling for a tax on meat
As for the environment, the science behind carbon sequestration shows that grasslands are very good at sequestering carbon in their roots, and the management of landscapes by cattle ranchers has positive benefits for water management, fire suppression and enhancing biodiversity.
Besides, some landscapes are simply not suitable for conversion into crops. With the population of Earth projected to grow to nine billion or more by 2050, you’d think that taxing food would be the last thing anyone would be proposing.
Then again, who would have thought an Alberta government would ever impose a carbon tax on home heating bills when this province routinely slips below – 30 C for several weeks every winter?
A meat tax is a proposal we need to keep an eye on. If it happens in Denmark or Sweden, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads elsewhere.