A carbon levy would cut consumption of meat and cheese, find researchers – and coupled with a sugar tax, it could save lives
By Alex Pashley
Taxing the carbon footprint of food could slow global warming and stave off heart disease, UK policy makers have been told.
It should be coupled with a sugar levy to secure the health gains, according to a study by researchers at Oxford and Reading universities.
In isolation, hiking the price of high-carbon products like beef, lamb and cheese decreases people’s cholesterol intake, but pushes consumers towards sweeter options that are also bad for them.
Potential spikes in obesity rates showed the need for a “well designed carbon tax”, lead author Adam Briggs of Oxford University said.
Researchers modelled the benefits of a carbon tax of £2.86 (US$4.11) a tonne of CO2 for foods producing higher-than-average emissions, combined with a 20% sales tax on sugary drinks.
That mix cut UK annual greenhouse gases by 3% or 18.5 million tonnes of CO2 and delayed or averted 1,249 deaths.
Another option studied, subsidising lower-carbon healthy foods like fruits and vegetables led to lower carbon cuts at 16.4Mt but bigger health gains, prolonging more than 2,000 lives.
“Our study demonstrates that a food carbon tax could have meaningful effects on greenhouse gas emissions without harming health,” said Briggs.
“Small tweaks to the design of the tax, such as a tax on soft drinks, can result in significant improvements to population health without dramatically reducing the effect on emission reductions.”
The study published in journal BMC Public Health showed changing food consumption patterns could help the UK meet its long-term goal to slash CO2 80% by mid-century.
Under the scenario, a levy on 100g of beef would raise its price by £1.79. The same weight of eggs would be £0.03 more expensive.
At present, the UK observes a carbon tax on industry and transport, but it doesn’t cover agriculture, which provided 53.7 Mt CO2e in 2013 out of a total 568, according to official data.