A new study, carried out by the Nuffield Department of Population Health and the Oxford Martin School, has claimed that the introduction of a tax red and processed meats could prevent in excess of 220,00 deaths, whilst also saving over €34 billion in healthcare costs.
The results of the study were published yesterday, November 7th, in the PLoS One journal and focused on the optimal levels of taxation for meats in 149 different regions throughout the world. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) now classifying lamb, pork and beef as carcinogenic when eaten in the processed form and possibly being carcinogenic in the unprocessed form, the aim of the study was to try and promote a change in consumption patterns.
These meats have also recently been linked to increased coronary heart disease rates, and increased stroke and type 2 diabetes rates. It was also hoped that the study could account for the cost burden on healthcare systems, associated with the consumption of these meats.
For the higher income countries, the study found that red meats needed to be at least 20% more expensive.
The study also found that processed meats, such as bacon, sausages and products like jerky, would need to have their price doubled at least, to account for health costs associated with their consumption.
Rather than prohibiting the consumption of these meats, the research set out to estimate tax levels that would account for the healthcare costs related to it. The study was led by Dr Marco Springmann, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford. It estimated that by 2020 there will be at least 2.4 million deaths attributable to the consumption of red and processed meats, while they also estimated healthcare costs in the region of $285billion (€248billion).
'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, which are taxpayer-funded in many countries, and on the economy, which is losing its labour force due to ill health and care for family members who fall ill,' Dr Springmann said.
Taxation of meats -
Like taxes on other products that can harm health including alcohol, tobacco and sugar, a tax on red and processed meat, the study claims, could encourage consumers to make healthier choices.
The research suggests that if these health taxes were introduced, the consumption of processed meat would decline by about two portions per week in high-income countries and by 16% globally. It did, however, not that the consumption levels of unprocessed red meat would remain steady, due to consumers substituting it for processed meat.
The calculation of proposed tax levels followed the principles of optimal taxation, to account for the health costs of red and processed meat consumption. Their forecast that tax revenues from meats would amount to US$172 billion (€149.7 billion) globally, covering approximately 70% of the health costs associated with red and processed meat consumption. To fully cover the costs, they estimated that health taxes would have to be doubled.
'I hope that governments will consider introducing a health levy on red and processed meat as part of a range of measures to make healthy and sustainable decision-making easier for consumers.” said Dr Springmann.
“A health levy on red and processed meat would not limit choices, but send a powerful signal to consumers and take pressure off our healthcare systems,' Dr Springmann added.
Other benefits -
The study also noted that an overall worldwide reduction in the consumption of processed meats would have positive knock-on effects on issues such as climate change and obesity.
The researchers report that it would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by over one hundred million tonnes, due to lower beef consumption. Obesity levels would also witness reductions, they claim, with customers switching to lower-calorie substitutions.
'Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat. However, our findings make it clear that the consumption of red and processed meat has a cost, not just to people’s health and to the planet, but also to the healthcare systems and the economy,' Dr Springmann concluded.
To Read more on the study see here.