Tax junk food not meat, jury says

A tax should be used to shift people away from ultra-processed foods rather than to make meat more expensive, according to a panel of experts.

A simplistic tax on all meat is too blunt a policy tool, according to a jury at an event convened by the Food Ethics Council to scrutinise the idea of a UK meat tax.

Representatives from the NFU and the Sustainable Food Trust challenged the idea that a meat tax was necessary and inevitable to address the health and environmental issues associated with its consumption, arguing that eating meat in moderation can have nutritional value, while sustainable livestock production can have benefits for people and the environment.

Arguing in favour of a meat tax, representatives from the University of Oxford and the Institute of Development Studies gave evidence of the negative health impacts of consuming processed and ultra-processed meat, which include higher mortality rates and cardio-vascular disease.

The jury, which included Soil Association chief executive Helen Browning and philosopher Dr Julian Baggini, concluded that to maximise health benefits, a tax should instead be used to shift people away from ultra-processed food. Jurors also argued for the UK government to respond to the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis with fiscal measures to incentivise climate-friendly livestock production and penalise those that contribute to global warming.

“We shouldn’t lump all meat into the same basket, which is why a blunt tax on meat won’t work,” said Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council. “The clearest evidence is against ultra-processed meat and other ultra-processed foods, which have been allowed to dominate our daily diets. It’s time to challenge this and seriously consider the idea of an ultra-processed food tax.”

This week, the BBC reported that ultra-processed foods - such as chicken nuggets, ice cream and breakfast cereals - have been linked to early death and poor health, according to scientists.

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