Sweden considers meat tax to encourage sustainable diets

Signal of change / Sweden considers meat tax to encourage sustainable diets

By Juliette Aplin / 09 Mar 2016

This signal was first published on the Futures Centre on 30 Jul 2015.

A new working group has been formed by the Swedish Government to discuss the possible implementation of a ‘meat tax’.

Led by Kristina Persson, Minister for Strategy and Future issues, the working group will investigate ‘how a meat tax could be used to encourage more sustainable food consumption’, reports Global Meat News.

Plans to introduce a meat tax in Sweden were initially discussed by Sweden's Agricultural Board in 2013, but with no successful outcome. Interest in the concept has now been reignited as a petition launched by the environmental campaign group Swedish Food and Environment Information (SMMI) has gained over 7,000 signatures.

So what?

Sweden is currently the only country known to exploring the concept of taxation as a political tool to address the environmental impact of increasing meat consumption. Once imposed, the meat tax is likely to drive changes in both the farming and consumption of meat in Sweden.

Firstly, higher taxes on meat production will create an incentive for farmers to turn towards other types of farming with lower taxes and higher long-term profit potential. Farmers will be encouraged for example, to convert their land to crops for human consumption, rather than animal feed, or produce crops for biogas or fertiliser instead. Those supporting the tax indicate that an increase in biofuel production could reduce Sweden’s reliance on fossil fuels, helping to “future-proof” Sweden’s agricultural industry in the long term.

Secondly, as the tax makes meat more expensive, consumers are likely to reduce their meat consumption, and start looking towards alternative sources of protein. As a report published by Swedish Board of Agriculture commented, the negative consequences of meat-heavy diet are reasonably well understood by the public, but “voluntary actions by consumers and firms are probably not enough to reach existing environmental and climate goals”, adding that  “voluntary actions have to be complemented by public policies”. Such an approach raises the question of what role the Government should play in shaping consumer choices around how much meat they should eat.

Others have raised concerns that this tax will make meat or animal protein the preserve of only the wealthy. A tax on meat could instigate further growth in the vegetable-based protein market, which could result in cheaper products. However, there is still a need to ensure that protein remains affordable for those on lower incomes in order to prevent a protein nutrition gap occurring.

Although the concept of a tax is still in the early stage of discussion, many have highlighted the need to apply careful consideration to its design, in order to avoid unintended consequences. As Gabriella Cahlin, Head of the Market department for the Swedish Board of Agriculture stated, "regulation, environment taxes and subsidies can lead in the right direction. But it's crucial that this is at an international level. Or else we risk moving the production somewhere else where the tax burden is lower, not where the production is sustainable."

Mark Driscoll, Head of Food at Forum for the Future, sees taxation relating to meat consumption as an important trend: “I suspect we will see many more signs of using fiscal incentives and disincentives to address meat consumption over the coming years, as competition for land intensifies and as consumer awareness around the health and environmental impacts of meats grows."

Sources

Global Meat News (July 22, 2015) Petition launched for meat tax in Sweden

Jordbruks Verket (January 22, 2012) Sustainable meat consumption: What is it? How do we get there?

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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