By Kim Robson:
Denmark may be considering a nationwide tax on red meat. According to the Danish Council for Ethics, an influential government think tank, climate change has become an “ethical issue” and people should be obliged to change their eating habits. To this end, they have proposed adding a tax for those who insist on eating red meat. Eventually the tax would extend to all foods whose production cause harm to the environment. The thought behind this is that shifting our diets away from red meat is necessary if we’re to have a chance at keeping global climate change below the recommended limit of 2°C.
In a press release, the council has said that Danish dietary habits are unsustainable and that “Danes are ethically obliged to change [their] eating habits.” They recommend that the tax start with beef, then eventually extend to all red meats, with the long-term goal of applying it to all foods, depending on their relative climate impact.
The Independent reports, “The council voted in favour of the measures by an overwhelming majority, and the proposal will now be put forward for consideration by the government.”
Animal agriculture causes a significant impact on the environment. Studies have proven that a vegetarian diet is more climate smart. Cattle production alone is responsible for significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and all food production accounts for roughly 19 to 29 percent. The council states that eating less meat from ruminant animals (such as cattle and lamb) could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food in Denmark by 20 to 35 percent.
Many people bristle at the notion of government regulation of behaviors like eating habits, but the chairman of the council’s working group, Mickey Gjerris, believes it is necessary. He says, “For a response to climate-damaging food to be effective, while also contributing to raise awareness of the challenge of climate change, it must be shared. This requires society to send a clear signal through regulation.”
As might be expected, reactions to the proposal have been mixed. The news site The Local reported that the proposal was immediately and unsurprisingly met with resistance from the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. Spokesman Niels Peter Nørring said, “A climate tax would require a massive setup in the public sector and the food industry while the effects would be minimal.” He added that climate change can be addressed only at a global level. The Danish governing party also responded, saying it’s unlikely to act on the Council’s suggestion and called it a “bureaucratic monster” with limited effect.
Whether or not the proposal is put in place, this remains an important step toward educating people that our dietary decisions do affect the world around us. Vegetarianism, or at least choosing less meat-centric diets, has been largely absent from the global conversation about climate change because governments fear backlash from powerful meat lobbies and an angry public. As a result, many people have not yet learned about the impact food production, especially meat production, has on the environment. The council’s suggestion shows that that sentiment may be changing. We all should pay attention and follow suit.