Increase Meat and Dairy Prices to Tackle Climate Change, Cambridge Report Demands

Beef steaks on the grill - stock photo Beef steaks on the grill with flames
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A report produced by Cambridge University academics has called for foods with so-called high carbon footprints, such as dairy and meat, to be made more expensive in order to save the planet.

The Cambridge University-led study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says that “education” alone on changing diets towards more plant-based habits and abandoning car ownership is not enough.

The report, “Changing Behaviour for Net Zero 2050” instead suggests there be “rapid, radical changes” to pricing in order to make normal food consumption and travel prohibitively expensive.

“Interventions that decrease the affordability of unhealthy unsustainable options and increase the affordability of healthier sustainable options would also help change public behaviour,” the report said, including “using taxes and other price based mechanisms to reflect the emissions associated with different products and activities”.

“Increase prices of carbon-intense foods, including processed and red meat, dairy products and ultra-processed foods” and “reduce prices of low-processed and plant-based foods”, the report advised, while saying that package sizes and portions for meat, dairy, and other “energy-dense foods” should also be reduced.

Subsidies for livestock farming should also be cut, they said.

The report also claimed that even if public support for taxing meat off their plates was low now, they would accept it once the interventions are implemented, comparing it to the acceptance in large cities of the introduction of congestion charges, “reflecting both changes in attitudes and acceptance of the status quo”.

In forcing people to abandon their cars, the scientists suggest increasing prices of fossil fuels and charging private car owners for road use, including “congestion zone charging and increased parking costs”.

“Restricting availability and attractiveness of car use — eg, car-free zones, limited parking, traffic calming measures, and low speed limits” was also recommended.

This is not the first time a body has recommended certain foods be taxed. In July, a review by the National Food Strategy group commissioned by the government said salt and sugar used to produce foods or in catering to be taxed.

The NFS stopped short of calling for a meat tax, but said that Britons should eat one-third less meat in order for the UK to reach the net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050.

Millions in taxpayers’ money should go into the development of “alternative proteins” such as lab-grown meat, according to the review, which also recommended fruits and vegetables be prescribed on the NHS.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s initial response to the report was that he did not feel “attracted to the idea of extra taxes on hard-working people, let me just signal that”.

However, the government’s existing environmental and public health proposals could already hurt poorer Britons, according to a report from the Food and Drink Federation from July.

Measures that could see food and drink producers responsible for the disposal of post-consumer goods and advertising restrictions on foods high in salt, sugar, or fat, could be passed onto the consumer, which the group said could result in the average annual grocery bill rising by £160.

The report suggested that such restrictions would be counter-productive to encouraging a healthier lifestyle, estimating that for poorer families, that could represent an 11 per cent rise, the equivalent of what that family would spend on fresh vegetables and fruit a year.


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