Swedish agricultural authorities are recommending
a tax to reduce meat consumption
and say such a levy should be adopted across the European Union
January 23, 2013 - With the European Parliament’s agricultural committee beginning two days of deliberations today (23 January) on future support for farmers, Sweden’s Board of Agriculture proposed the tax aimed at reducing the environmental impact of meat production.
Experts on the government board said there are environmental and health benefits to eating more vegetables.
"Voluntary actions have to be complemented by public policies,” they said in the report Sustainable meat consumption: What is it? How do we get there?, published on Tuesday (22 January).
Consumers can contribute to sustainable food production by avoiding the meat that is worst from a sustainability perspective. Labelling is one way to make it easier for consumers to choose meat that is more sustainable.
Meat tax at EU level
But voluntary actions by consumers and firms are probably not enough to reach existing environmental and climate goals, the Swedish Board of Agriculture said.
Therefore, a meat tax not only in Sweden, but at EU level could be the solution.
“Environmental regulations and economics incentives like environmental taxes or subsidies are possible alternatives. Preferably they should be implemented at the EU level rather than the national level," the report stated.
Marit Paulsen, a Swedish MEP who is vice president of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, called the report “quite smart and reasonable” but did not go so far as supporting the tax idea.
“I still believe in information,” she told EurActiv. “In this case I actually believe in people deciding to make the right choices by themselves. Let’s begin there and then have tougher regulation on animal welfare than we have now. That will increase the prices."
“I believe meat will become more expensive. I don’t know how, but if we have to add an emission tax, then let it be, but let us for God’s sake now start a proper discussion with the knowledge we have which includes the fact that we can’t afford to use so much money producing meat,” added Paulsen, who is affiliated with the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe.
Last year, the average Swede consumed 87 kilos of meat with beef and veal being the most popular which is around the EU average.
Paulsen said she would prefer the Swedish meat consumption to shrink to 45-50 kilos per person per year which was the level 20 years ago.
Environmentalists say the world’s growing appetite for meat – especially in emerging countries – contributes to water and land clearing and higher levels of greenhouse gases.
"It requires a lot of resources to produce meat compared to vegetable food products, so many resources that the production can lead to deforestation of rainforests in the world," Sone Ekman of the Swedish Board of Agriculture told Swedish Radio.
"What should be done would be to let the tax be differentiated so that the meat which creates the biggest emission of greenhouse gases also gets the highest tax," Ekman said.
According to a forecast by the EU Commission, the meat consumption per person in the EU will not increase much until 2020.
The EU executive expects that the consumption of poultry and pork will continue to increase, while consumption of beef, sheep and lambs will decrease slightly.
"Our mission is to work for a sustainable development and food production for the benefit of the consumers. In the report we have tried to make a holistic perspective on meat consumption," said Gabriella Cahlin, head of the market department of the Swedish Board of Agriculture.
"Regulation, environment taxes and subsidies can lead in the right direction. But it's crucial that this is at an international level. Or else we risk moving the production somewhere else where the tax burden is lower, not where the production is sustainable."
EU inventions to support meat and livestock production topped €255 million in 2011 but could be cut under proposals to reducing budgetary support for the future Common Agricultural Policy.
Still, Europeans love their meat. Meat consumption has been rising steadily in Sweden and the EU for years. The per-capita Swedish consumption of 87 kilos per year is slightly higher than the EU average.
Luxembourg has the world's highest per-capita level of meat consumption, ahead of the United States, and one of the biggest tastes for beef, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Spain, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal and Italy are also among the world's largest meat-consuming nations.
Excerpt of the report entitled
"Sustainable meat consumption: What is it? How do we get there?"
You can read the full report below
Western consumers should cut down meat consumption in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production. Beef in particular contributes to high greenhouse gas emissions.
It will also be easier to feed the world´s increasing population if western consumers reduce meat consumption. This holds for all types of meat. The pressure on world´s natural resources will be lower if we eat more vegetable food and less meat. Reducing food waste, eating smaller servings or eating meat less often are examples of ways to reduce meat consumption.
From a health perspective there is no need to eat as much meat as the average Swedish consumer does today. Instead, by ncreasing consumption of vegetable food, health as well as environmental gains could be achieved.
Nutrient runoff and pesticide use in agriculture is influenced by the amount of meat we consume, from which animals the meat comes and which feed they eat.
But reduced nutrient runoff and reduced pesticide use can also be achieved by improving production methods at the farm level.
There are also positive environmental impacts from meat production. Grazing animals are required in order to preserve Swedish semi-natural pastures. These pastures are important for biodiversity and rural landscapes. Further, meat production contributes to jobs on the Swedish countryside. However, particularly for beef there is a conflict of interest between preserving pastures and jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
It matters how the animals are raised. Free-range outdoor production, where the animals grow slowly, often contributes to higher emissions per kg of meat than intensive confined production. However, here there is a conflict of interest in relation to other sustainability criteria, for example animal welfare. It is therefore difficult to generalize and say that intensive production systems are always better.
Animals living in a good environment where they can perform their natural behavior have better conditions for good health. A high level of animal welfare combined with a comparatively low infection risk contributes to good animal health on Swedish farms. Healthy animals require less antibiotics, which means less risk of antibiotic resistance.
Consumers can contribute to sustainable food production by avoiding the meat that is worst from a sustainability perspective. But for consumers to make the right choices they need to be better informed. Labeling is one way to make it easier for consumers to choose meat that is more sustainable.
Voluntary actions by consumers and firms are probably not enough to reach existing environmental and climate goals. Voluntary actions have to be complemented by public policies. Environmental regulations and economics incentives like environmental taxes or subsidies are possible alternatives.
Preferably they should be implemented at the EU level rather than the national level. Government funded information, education and research and development are important complements to regulations, taxes and subsidies.Measures stimulating or forcing producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product produced is one possibility. Lower emissions can be achieved both by increasing efficiency and by using new production methods.
Another possibility is a carbon tax at consumer level with one tax level for each type of meat (beef, chicken, pork). Other types of food with large emissions should also be included in such a system. The difficulties in designing an efficient carbon tax should not be underestimated, but the reduction of meat consumption that can be achieved could also benefit global food security and in some cases human health.
When public policies are designed it is important to have a comprehensive view and take all relevant sustainability criteria into account. Policies focusing on one single aspect of sustainability may not improve overall sustainability.
Finally, meat consumption should be seen as part of total consumption, including housing, travel and shopping. Also the latter types of consumption can become more sustainable.
This report is part of a project about sustainable consumption of agricultural products. The aim of the project is to provide and disseminate information about the effects of the consumption of agricultural products on the environment, the
climate and the society. The goal is to help consumers make conscious choices.