Red Meat May Be Taxed in Denmark to Fight Climate Change

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CC BY 2.0. Michael Cannon

Climate change has become an ethical issue in the eyes of the Danish Council for Ethics, which suggested last week that the government consider a tax on beef, and eventually all foods depending on climate impact.

Denmark is considering a nation-wide tax on red meat. This would encourage people to eat less of it, which is necessary if global climate change is to be kept below the recommended limit of 2°C.

The Danish Council of Ethics, which proposed this tax, has called the Danish way of life unsustainable and said in a press release that “Danes are ethically obliged to change [their] eating habits.” The Council recommends that the tax start with beef, then eventually extend to all red meats, with the long-term goal of applying to all foods depending on their 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 is known to have a significant impact on the planet. (Watch Cowspiracy to learn more about this.) Cattle alone are responsible for an estimated 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, while all food production accounts for roughly 19 to 29 percent. It makes sense, therefore, to focus on red meat while striving to lower those numbers. 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.

While many people will be up in arms at the thought of government regulation, the chairman of the Council’s working group, Mickey Gjerris, says it is necessary.

“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.”

Reactions have been mixed. The Local news site says the suggestion was immediately met with resistance by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council – not surprisngly. Spokesman Niels Peter Nørring stated, “A climate tax would require a massive setup in the public sector and the food industry while the effects would be minimal,” adding that climate change can only be addressed at a global level.

The Local also reported that the governing party responded, saying it’s unlikely to act on the Council’s suggestion and calling it a “bureaucratic monster” with limited effect.

Naysayers aside, this is an important step toward forcing people to realize that dietary habits do affect the world around us. Meat has not been part of the global conversation about climate change for far too long, as governments fear backlash from powerful meat lobbies and the angry public, and as a result many individuals have not yet learned about the impact it has. The tide seems to be changing, as the Council’s suggestion shows. Now, if only the rest of the world would pay attention and follow suit.