Carbon dioxide tax on meat - a debated topic

02 April 2013

Sofia Stecksen

At the end of January 2013, the Swedish Board of Agriculture released its report “Sustainable meat consumption”. The report stresses the negative environmental impact of meat production and the importance of reducing meat consumption in Western countries. Because it argued the possibilities of a carbon dioxide tax on meat, this report quickly rose on top of the social and political agenda in Sweden. According to the Swedish Board of Agriculture the report does not propose a carbon dioxide tax on meat, but highlights the possibilities of such a tax. The full report is available (in Swedish) on the website of the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

According to the report, a study from 2010 shows that the Swedish total consumption of meat (beef, pork, poultry and lamb) was 82 kilos per person in a year, and the average consumption within the EU was 83 kilos. This can be compared with the average global consumption of 42 kilos meat per person in a year. The production of animal products accounts for almost one fifth of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report. Consequently, the production of meat has a significant negative impact on the environment. The report states that voluntary measures to reach the climate and environmental objectives are probably not sufficient. They need to be supplemented by instruments of government control, for example, by introducing a carbon dioxide tax on meat at the consumer level.

The benefits of a carbon dioxide tax on meat at the consumer level are presented in the report. Firstly, when such a tax is at the consumer level, the importation of meat as well as the domestically produced meat (i.e. within the EU) will be included in the tax system on equal terms. Furthermore, a carbon dioxide tax on meat may stimulate a more climate-friendly diet and reduce wastage of food at the consumer level.

The report emphasises that a carbon dioxide tax on meat at the consumer level is a viable instrument of control, provided that the tax is based on standards for the amount of greenhouse gas that the production of different types of meat gives rise to. At the same time, the report admits that a tax system based on standards is not as effective as a system based on actual emissions, inter alia, because it makes no distinction between the emission levels of meat within the different types of meat. This is particularly problematic when it comes to beef since the emissions are extremely variable depending on the farming system. However, as beef in general generates more carbon dioxide emissions than meat from for example pork or chicken, a carbon dioxide tax on meat based on standards appears to be a realistic option according to the report. Furthermore, the report expresses the importance of consumers not to switch from meat to other animal products that have similar or only marginally lower climate impact. Therefore, not only meat but also fish, milk and eggs must be included in a tax system for carbon dioxide emissions.

Finally, it should be stressed that the report’s discussion about the possibilities of a carbon dioxide tax on meat was immediately heavily criticised by numerous Swedish citizens as well as individual politicians.