Yesterday a video was published by BBC news, featuring a farmer who thinks a tax should be introduced on meat products in a bid to save the environment.
The farmer’s name was Simon Fairlie, and he proposed a VAT tax being implemented on all meat products in the UK.
Mr. Fairlie, a dairy farmer in the UK, feels that with livestock contributing to 45% of all global emissions that a tax may be an option to help tackle the problem.
As we all know well enough by now, It is proven that cows do in fact cause damage to the environment with the excessive excretion of methane gases.
These gases are made in the stomachs of the cow, to help them digest the tough cellulose in grass. These gases, as we know, are released through burps or flatulence.
Methane levels, of course, have increased due to a higher demand for beef and increasing population numbers. This has led to suggestions from those in power to eat less beef products in an effort to reduce cattle numbers.
World cattle numbers now stand at approximately 998.3 million, this represents a huge increase in recent years and has no doubt aided in increasing global emissions.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Agriculture tops the list for emissions at 29.3% of all emissions in Ireland.
They predict that agriculture emissions will increase by a whopping 12% by 2020.
Solutions and discrepancies:
Though emissions are a serious problem, there are solutions on hand, yet to be tested on a larger scale.
A study published recentlly n the Irish Times seems to have tackled the problem and found a very viable solution, in seaweed.
According to the research, carried out at James Cook University in Queensland in Australia, found that adding 2% dried seaweed to a cow’s diet can decrease methane emissions from the animal by up to 99%.
The discovery was made by one of the researchers back in 2012, after he noticed cattle feeding on the dried plant were healthier and happier animals.
This surely solves the problem of methane emissions, with an abundance of seaweed available throughout the country.
The emission argument, although fair, seems a bit much considering vehicles and large scale factories and processors are contributing just as much to climate change in the big picture.
Recently a lot of work has been done by Irish Agricultural groups, organisations and farmers h to try and decrease their carbon footprints. This is proven by the numerous schemes in place as ways for farmers to be subsidised for their efforts, and proven by the high number of applicants and benefactors.
According to the Department of Agriculture figures 34,524 farmers have benefitted from the schemes, this suggests that necessary efforts are already being made by the industry as a whole.
In fact the most recent results posted by the Environmental Protection Agency on gas emissions, shows a decrease from 19,744 in 2013 to 19,503. So the hard work is paying dividends.
But there were other reasons mentioned, backing the proposed tax.
Mr. Fairlie also commented that meats aren’t a healthy alternative anyway, though that is still yet to be definitively proven by science with contradicting studies been published regularly.
Even the UN recently suggested the eating of less meats, in an attempt to fight climate change.
They said that restricting meat portions in the world’s diet would improve our chances of reaching our climate change goals by 2050.
There was also research led by Oxford Martin School, reported in the Guardian, which concluded that a worldwide adoption of vegetarianism would cut food-related emissions by up to 63%.
The study also found that this would make the population healthier, finding that up to 5million deaths could be avoided globally by 2050 if strict health guidelines on meat consumption were followed.
But as I said the jury seems to be undecided on that one as of yet with many scientists highlighting the struggle of earlier human beings without meat consumption.
It was also theorized by the farmer that the direct tax would also help make food production more sustainable.
While there is valid reasoning to his argument on a whole, there is also a strong contradicting side to this debate.
What would the introduction of this tax mean for farmers? What about meat consumers?
A tax on meats would probably lead to a decreased number of beef producers in the country, and surely would lead to many small farmers quitting the industry.
Consumers would in no doubt be the ones to suffer, having to pay a much higher premium for their beloved meat products.
Higher prices would surely result in consumers sourcing cheaper meats, possibly foreign produce, in a bid to save money.
This of course would cause huge damage to the Irish beef industry and agri-food sectors, and probably damage our golden reputation throughout Europe as the prime source of beef.
The move could also see Irish processors, if implemented, selling their products abroad instead of in Ireland for fear of it not selling at higher prices. These processors would obviously have to reconsider their marketing and sale in Ireland, and maybe focus on selling their meats in Europe.
This could therefore result in farmers not being able to sell their livestock, or having to sell them at lower prices just to get rid of them.
It could see the power shift firmly back into the hands of the major processors, who could insist on paying lower prices to farmers to subsidise their own potential loss in profits.
But is there really any point in producing world renowned meats then, if we’re all not getting to enjoy them?
It was reported in the Teagasc Annual review and outlook for 2017 that Steer prices were down by 10% on last years prices, while weanling and store prices were also down by 10%.
According to the Teagasc National Farm survey for 2016, the average level of debt across farms with borrowings was over 63 thousand euros, a 3% increase year on year.
Farmers are struggling enough as it is at the moment, without less money coming in for them. In an overall valuation this hypothetical tax would cause ripples through the Irish economy as a whole. It may help the environment, but there are also hungry mouths to feed and bills to pay.
Thankfully there’s no mention of these tax being imposed in Ireland, as of yet.
The hard truth is that methane is a by product of an animal that's been around for centuries, the increased emissions in the world should be blamed on us as a world population, rather than pointing the finger at defenseless animals and struggling farmers.