NEWS

UK ‘MEAT TAX’ WOULD COST ECONOMY ALMOST £250M A YEAR

Study proposes more subtle approach that encompasses climate, economy, and land use

  • 22
  • JUL
  • 2021

A ‘meat tax’ would cost the UK £242 million a year according to a new study.

Conversely, the savings resulting from reduced climate emissions were calculated in the region of £100M per annum.

The report from agricultural research institute Rothamsted Research concludes a tax on red meat to help curb climate change could do more harm than good.

Dr Taro Takahashi, the agricultural economist who led the research said the economic losses will not only be borne by livestock farmers, but everyone in society.

“Solely from the climate change perspective, our results unambiguously support everyone else’s finding: that a red meat tax can reduce GHG emissions.

“But unfortunately, this is only half the story, because the same tax could also force grazing livestock farms out of the industry – even when grassland is actually the most sensible land use at that particular location.

“As well as impacting consumers and farmers, the knock-on effects will be felt right along supply chains as well as rural communities that support and are supported by farmers.”

Last week’s National Food Strategy report called for a 30% reduction in meat consumption but steered clear of suggesting a meat tax, calling it “politically impossible”.

This decision was met with strong criticism by advocates of a levy against ruminant farming because dairy, beef and lamb are known to cause greater greenhouse gas emissions than poultry, pork or plant-based foods.

However, whilst UK sheep and cattle are typically reared on grass, poultry and pigs are predominantly fed on cereals that could instead be eaten by humans – and with limited space available for agriculture, growing food for farm animals rather than people is often seen as an inefficient use of land.

Dr Takahashi says rather than a blanket tax, a better solution would be to look at which areas of the country are best kept as cattle and sheep farms, and which would be better turned to other uses such as crop production for human consumption, agroforestry, and provision of ecosystem services.

“This would involve a more nuanced approach of weighing up the carbon savings against the amount of nutrients produced and the impacts on the economy, both locally and nationally.”

The new study, published in Scientific Reports, modelled economy-wide impacts of meat tax for the first time and estimated that, even under moderate tax rates previously proposed for the UK (19% for meat and 11% for dairy), the country’s economic losses would amount to £242M per year.

These losses resulted from transfer of land and labour forces from livestock farms to arable farms and non-agricultural industries.

The study found meat and milk production would decrease, with substantial greenhouse gas savings recorded both directly on farms and indirectly at connected industries, such as the manufacturing of agrochemicals.

Under the proposed tax, such climate change causing emissions were predicted to decrease by 2.5 Mt CO2 equivalent per year – equating to a monetised social benefit of £101M per annum under the same carbon price (£41/t CO2 equivalent) used to derive the assumed tax rates.

Advocates of a meat tax argue that economic models predict a significant reduction in GHG emissions as a result of taxation.

“However, many of these analyses do not consider wider effects of taxation beyond red meat and dairy markets, and as such the macroeconomic impacts associated with a shrinkage in the livestock industry were mostly unknown before this study,” said Dr Takahashi.

Professor Michael Lee, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Harper Adams University who co-authored the paper while at Rothamsted added: “Our study also shows the vital role responsible consumption of ruminant livestock products can play within a sustainable food system under the UK’s grassland dominated landscape.

“Ruminant livestock are the most efficient provider of key nutrients for human health from land not suitable for growing crops. The study highlights that even with reduced protein consumption levels as advocated in the National Food Strategy, ruminants, given our landscape, should continue to supply high-quality protein from grasslands. This way, more fertile lands can be freed up for provision of fibre and vitamins through vegetables and fruits.”

The next step for the research team is to identify when exactly grassland should remain grassland for sustainable food production, a task Dr Takahashi describes as “critical” for the future of UK agriculture.

“Given that we currently consume more livestock products than nutritionally recommended, it is perhaps socially suboptimal to maintain all of today’s grasslands for grazing purposes. The question, then, is under what soil, local climate and other geographical conditions are they desirable to society?

“We absolutely need to answer this question before telling a specific farmer to stop rearing livestock, because otherwise some unintended consequences are very likely.”

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

About BBSRC
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.