It's not unusual to hear experts recommend a plant-based diet—we all know that opting for grains and veggies is better for our health and the environment than the meaty alternative. But when confronted by a heap of steaming spag Bol on a cold autumn evening or a sausage butty under your hungover nose, those carnivorous cravings will inevitably kick in. Sorry, science.
So, how do you solve the world's meat-eating problem if we aren't ready to go to full green V but, y'know, the planet is kinda screwed by climate change? Researchers at the University of Oxford think they have the answer.
In a study published last week in the Nature Climate Change journal, experts from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food calculated the amount of tax needed globally on meat and dairy products to offset their carbon footprint. The researchers suggest that such a levy would decrease consumption, cutting carbon emissions by one billion tonnes a year.
As a result of the taxes, the Oxford experts also predict that half a million lives would be saved each year, as people would be prompted to switch to a more plant-heavy diet. (Eating large amounts of red meat has been shown to increase obesity-related illness and mortality rates.)
But exactly how much would you have to fork out if you did want to indulge your burger cravings? Under the researchers' theoretical tax, it could be as much as 40 percent more.
To determine the amount of meat or dairy tax to charge, the Oxford team assessed the carbon emissions produced by each meat or dairy product, as well as the health impacts and the potential change in consumption. Beef clocked in with the highest average tax at 40 percent, with milk and other meats requiring a charge of up to 20 percent.
However, Dr Marco Springmann, lead author and climate change policy researcher at Oxford, stressed in a press release that such a tax system would have to include measures to ensure low income families also had access to meat and dairy items.
He said: "Food prices are a sensitive topic. We approached the design of climate policies for the food and agriculture system from a health perspective to find out whether the emissions of food production could be priced without putting people's health at risk."
Springmann and his co-authors said that one way to tackle this would be by using the taxes raised to compensate consumers and subsidise fruit and vegetables.
They aren't the first to suggest a meat levy. Earlier this year, a UK-specific study was carried out to find out whether taxing red meat would improve diets and in Denmark, such a tax was debated but eventually thrown out by the Danish government. The Oxford study is unique, however, in looking at a global meat tax and making climate charges region-specific, based on each country's production and consumption of animals.
While the report is still theoretical, it's certainly (plant-based) food for thought on our meat-eating habits.