A tax on meat could help reduce carbon emissions linked to agriculture and encourage a move to more sustainably-produced and higher welfare livestock as well as better diets.
That was one of the messages from Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton, who spoke at last week’s Oxford Farming Conference in front of an audience of large-scale farmers and farm businesses.
In a talk entitled ‘a radical alternative for British agriculture’, Lucas set out a vision for a sustainable and fairer food system, including higher welfare meat, farming with fewer pesticides, and fairer prices to farmers.
A meat tax could take into account less-intensive livestock production in a ‘tiered’ system, where intensively-produced meat would be taxed at a higher rate, and would help encourage consumers and farmers to move towards less but better quality meat, and away from intensive meat production.
“I recognise that careful selection of feed and manure management can help reduce greenhouse gases,” she said. “A banded meat tax would take into account less intensive livestock production. Keeping food artificially cheap can not be an excuse for environmental degradation and poor diets.”
In a subsequent column for the New Statesman, Lucas said that revenue from the tax could be funnelled into a health fund that makes plant-based food less expensive and helps those on lower incomes to afford healthy food.
Speaking to an audience of farmers, many of whom are involved in commercial livestock production, Lucas said: “Let me be clear that I’m speaking here with a very deep appreciation of the expertise of farmers, who are inherently the custodians of the landscape.
“In spite of some good individual examples, the food system is in crisis. We need a system that encourages agroecological farming. Farm production needs to be aligned to planetary boundaries, especially when it comes to climate emissions. We need to prioritise reducing carbon emissions with targets year on year.
“I knew a meat tax wouldn’t go down well at this audience but I felt it was an important thing to say,” she added.
With Brexit looming, Lucas said “farming in Britain is clearly being propelled into a new era”. “We need more locally-produced food produced with fewer pesticides, and a smaller intake of meat from sustainable sources,” she said.
Alongside meat, Lucas focused on the impact of chemical pesticides on wildlife and pollinators. “In my lifetime, we have wiped out half of our wildlife,” she said. “Chemical pesticides and fertilisers aren’t solely responsible, but we need to face up to the fact they play a significant role. Bees and other pollinators are seeing huge declines. That remarkable bird the swift has seen a halving of its population.”