Should Meat be Taxed?
I want to raise a policy idea that has floated around mind for some weeks: placing VAT on meat. There are many reasons why this could work, but my main concern was to come up with something that could be backed by both meat eaters and non-meat eaters, and that provides a gentler nudge towards a transition.
I was looking for something that could fit into an outline manifesto of simple solutions to the Climate Crisis like the one produced by Campaign against Climate Change in their “Climate Emergency” campaign, to go alongside banning short haul flights, creating a million green jobs and placing a 55mph restriction on roads to increase fuel efficiency and push more long-distance journeys on to railways.
I wanted a policy that was simple to understand but demonstrably separable from the Animal Rights mandate. It needs to have some kind of logical consistency that appeals to rational arguments often neglected in favour of pictures of suffering animals and denunciations of the very crowd supposedly being brought on board.
The UK has never taxed food in the shops because it is a requirement for life. Where one is paying for a service, i.e. for a plate of prepared food being placed on the table in front of them in a restaurant then it is considered an optional service, and VAT is applicable. Sweets, on the other hand, can attract tax because they are seen as luxuries.
I raise this because it has been shown that human beings do not need meat to survive, and so at root, moving meat out of the non-taxable category would be a clear sign of legislative acknowledgement of this fact. Meat is a luxury, but food isn’t. Those who want to eat meat should pay for the damage it causes.
Also, it would be a much more workable policy than any sort of meat ban, as it could easily be backed by anyone who acknowledges the CO2 emissions and huge land usage from meat production to be a bad thing. It would not, however, remove the option to have lamb at Easter and Turkey at Christmas.
My concern would be that it would return meat to its status as a rich-mans dinner. Society is so unequal that anything you increase the price of will simply be ignored by the richest few percent, but this cannot be a barrier to action. There might also be an issue to do with derivative products: should the pastry in a meat pasty attract VAT? Or should it just affect the meat component? How would you divide this up? Would a threshold of, say, 50% meat content merely result in minimal reductions? What about sausages that aren’t 100% meat anyhow? Would it be best to tax at source, or at consumption?
I also think there is some precedent in the use of taxation to curb vehicle use and smoking. Just because you drive a car doesn’t mean you oppose road and petrol taxation, even if the RAC’s political lobbying wing would like the government to believe that.
So there it is: put a tax on meat and meat products. Discuss!