Bioethics professor argues for meat tax

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Greenhouse gas

Heavy taxes on meat are needed to reduce consumption, thereby bringing multiple benefits for human health, animal welfare and the environment, argues a professor of bioethics from Princeton University.

Writing in the NY Daily Times​, Peter Singer adds his voice to those of a host of scientists and reports that have suggested people in Western countries should reduce their red meat consumption, partly for health reasons and partly because livestock contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions – estimates range from 18 percent (Food and Agriculture Organization), to 51 percent (World Watch Institute).

Although a meat tax may sound extreme, Singer is not the first to suggest it; in the UK, the World Wildlife Fund and Food Ethics Council have suggested that the government impose taxes based on foods’ greenhouse gas emissions, especially targeting meat. And the Swedish government, although not suggesting meat taxes, has circulated draft dietary guidelines for its citizens based on environmental and climate concerns as well as human health.

Singer suggests starting with a tax at 50 percent of the retail value of all meat in order to make a difference to current consumption, but “if it is not enough to bring about the change we need, then, like cigarette taxes, it will need to go higher.”

Meat and human health

His gives several reasons for this stance, beginning with the claim that “red meat is likely to kill you”, ​and citing the strong scientific links between daily consumption of red meat with bowel cancer and heart disease. This is a position also held by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, which both recommend that individuals eat no more than 18 oz (500g) of red meat a week, purely for health reasons.


In addition, Singer writes that “industrial meat production wastes food”​ in terms of the amount of grain – and therefore land – used to produce not just meat, but also “bones and other unpalatable body parts”,​ meaning that meat represents only a fraction of the food value put into animals. And he argues that “a meat tax would be an important step toward cleaner rivers”​ because less livestock would lead to less agricultural run-off, both from livestock production itself and from fertilizers used to produce feed grain.

The clincher

However, he argues that it is the environmental damage caused by meat production that provides the most compelling reason to tax meat.

He writes: “The clincher is that taxing meat would be a highly effective way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding catastrophic climate change.”

But despite red meat being the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, Singer argues that high taxes should be applied to all meat, regardless of environmental impact. This is because “a tax on red meat alone would merely push meat eaters to chicken”​, which he condemns on animal welfare grounds.

The full NY Daily Times​ article can be accessed here​.

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