Red meat could soon be hit by a controversial new tax which seeks to improve public health.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have estimated that a levy on burgers, sausages and bacon could prevent almost 6000 deaths per year in the UK and save the economy more than £700 million in healthcare costs. They are now pressuring the government to impose a 14% tax on red meat products and an astonishing 79% levy on other processed foods.
The research was spurred by a long-running connection between red meat consumption and heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer. Indeed, in 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded that cured, smoked and processed meats caused cancer.
A new tax, scientists argue, would simply encourage consumers to make healthier choices, in much the same way cigarette and alcohol taxes do.
Dr Marco Springmann, who lead the research from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, reasoned: "The consumption of red and processed meat exceeds recommended levels in most high and middle-income countries.
"This is having significant impacts not only on personal health, but also on healthcare systems.”
However, the move arguably follows the alarming precedent set by this year’s sugar tax that highlighted a conflict between parliament and the food retail sector.
This sentiment is echoed by Christopher Snowdon, from the Spectator, who said taxing food was “the next battleground for the nanny state.” Similarly, climate minister Claire Perry argued it would be “absurd” for the government to so aggressively intervene with the nation’s eating habits.
Furthermore, the tax would no doubt have catastrophic implications for Britain’s meat industry which is already worried for its post-Brexit future. The levy would place unnecessary constraints on producers and their prices, potentially leading to a steady decline in meat quality.
Nevertheless, scientists are adamant the suggested ‘sin tax’ should be adopted globally as they speculate it could save up to 220, 000 lives globally by 2020 and reduce healthcare costs by £30.7 billion.
Unfortunately, such research fails to consider whether taxation is feasible - or even remotely fair - for constrained and struggling meat processors. As they look out into an turbulent future, processors are right to feel concerned by unwarranted taxes on their food.