Danish Council on Ethics Releases Its Report on Beef as a 'Climate Damaging Food'

CC BY 2.0. Larry Hoffman

The report argues why a beef tax would be an effective step toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions and why we should all be paying more for climate-damaging foods.

Most people think that deciding what to eat for dinner is nobody’s business but their own. The Danish Council on Ethics thinks otherwise, as stated in a report issued this month called “The Ethical Consumer: Climate Damaging Foods.” Fourteen of the Council’s 17 members support a recommendation to implement a climate tax on beef in Denmark.

While all foods affect the climate in different ways, the report explains why taxing beef alone makes sense. The Council argues that beef falls into “a category of high climate impact that is very far from the other food categories, [which is why] a tax on this type of meat would be the right place to start.”

Why would a tax on beef be effective?

It would send a signal to Danish society that it ought to prioritize the reduction of climate-damaging foods.

It would effect real change in consumer choices, as prices are known to be a deciding factor for shoppers.

It would help conscientious consumers to feel less alone in their efforts to follow a climate-friendly diet.

“The imposition of taxes would signal that the moral responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be shouldered by the consumers in solidarity. It is not the specific piece of meat that the consumer is buying that causes the damage; Its impact is microscopic and only has damaging impact together with all the other consumers' contributions. But given the problems that certain foods are described to cause, everyone has an obligation to contribute to the implementation of effective, collective measures to make overall food consumption less damaging to the climate.”

The Council believes that a beef tax is justifiable when viewed as a form of price correction. After all, climate-damaging foods are priced far too low when one considers the societal and environmental costs they entail: “It is unfair that these costs are not paid by those who consume the products but by those who are harmed by the climate changes.”

Any taxes implemented by Denmark (the same amount, regardless of whether beef is imported or domestic) would be a major step forward, but in order to effect global change, it is absolutely necessary for other countries to adopt similar rules, as greenhouse gas emissions recognize no national boundaries. The debate becomes more important than ever in light of the fact that the global population is predicted to reach 11.2 billion by 2100.

“To meet future demand, food production must grow considerably. At the same time it is necessary that the agricultural sector’s imprint on the environment and the climate is reduced substantially compared to current levels. The target can hardly be reached without dietary changes involving less meat. A study shows that if the current trend continues unabated, global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will have increased by 63 percent before 2055 (compared to 1995 emission levels).”

The report is lengthy and interesting, particularly when it delves into the philosophical intricacies behind eating animals, the perceived ‘naturalness’ of food, and whether individuals or the state should be responsible for guiding ethical consumer choices. You can read the full report in English here.