The EU should impose a special Europe-wide tax on meat consumption to help save the planet
We on team proposition like the taste of meat. But we cannot deny that excessive meat consumption is a threat to the planet.
In fact we are going to show that there is ample scientific evidence to support this fear. Meat production increases global warming, abuses the water supply and leads to a loss of biodiversity.
To address the harms of consuming meat a tax needs to be imposed on it. Let us first outline how the EU tax on meat would work. We propose that the EU mandate a minimum tax on meat consumption and that the EU member states be responsible for enacting the tax. The tax would be an excise tax, similar to the excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco. This system would be similar to the set-up of excise taxes on gasoline, where the EU has also mandated a minimum tax for its member states. We will in our arguments explain why this kind of tax is the appropriate remedy to the issue.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Excessive meat consumption threatens the planet by contributing to global warming
1. Excessive meat consumption threatens the planet by contributing to global warming. We do not think that we have the burden to prove that greenhouse gasses effect the global climate situation. We believe that because of the research amassed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, particularly in its last report [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intergovernmental_Panel_on_Climate_Change#IPCC_Fourth_Assessment_Report:_Climate_Change_2007]] we can all agree (as the great majority of the world’s governments have) that global warming is a real threat to the planet and the causes for global warming are man-made. We’ll be happy to elaborate on this point, but hope that the opposition will concede.
Greenhouse gases. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization says livestock production is one of the major causes of environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Using a methodology that considers the entire commodity chain, the FAO estimates that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport.
There are three mechanisms through which meat production contributes to global warming: deforestation, manure and flatulence.
Deforestation. Deforestation happens because of a increasing demand for meat. As people become richer, they tend to (be able to) buy more meat products. For an example, pork imports to China has skyrocketed, rising more then 900% within the first four months of 2008.[[http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1839995,00.html]] This means that more livestock has to be raised in order to keep up with demand, which in turn means that the cattle will require more land to grow up in. Already today grazing occupies 26 percent of the Earth's terrestrial surface and this number is about to grow even bigger. To get more farmland, forests are being cut down. As trees are being cut down, the CO2 that they have absorbed is being released back to the atmosphere.
Experts believe that the way to tackle these issues is to cut down on meat consumption. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 2007 year earned a joint share of the Nobel Peace Prize has suggested that people should reduce their meat consumption to help combat global warming. [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/07/food.foodanddrink]] Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. [[http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html?_r=2&ex=1202187600&en=a1087de0ce76df87&ei=5070]]
The second place, where greenhouse gasses occur, is manure. Animal manure generates nitrous oxide, which firstly is a very strong greenhouse gas: some 300 times stronger then CO2 and secondly is one of the biggest ozone-depleting substances.
The third place, where greenhouse gasses occur, is flatulence: as livestock digests grass, it produces flatulence, which consists of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other gasses. This flatulence can reach up to 200 liters a day. As there are already about 1.3 billion cows in the world and 1 billion sheep, the overall amount of gas produced is quite big, especially when one takes into account that methane has 23 times the warming impact of CO2. Under this argument we have shown you that livestock produces significant amounts of greenhouse gasses, which we believe are directly affecting global climate change.
The opposition are happy to concede the existence and importance of global warming, and that the meat industry plays a significant aggravating role as characterised by the proposition. (In fact, our team captain is a 6 day a week vegetarian, so much faith does she have in these arguments.) The debate will not be fought on this ground therefore, rendering this point largely irrelevant to the debate.
Livestock production threatens the world’s water supply
Again there are two mechanisms through which meat production affects the global water supply: unsustainable consumption and pollution.
Unsustainable consumption Livestock production accounts for more than 8 percent of global human water use, mainly for the irrigation of feed crops. In Botswana livestock accounts for 23% of the country’s water use.[[ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e04.pdf]] As meat consumption is increasing globally the amount of water needes for raising the livestock will not be sustainable, according to the organizers of world water week. [[http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3559542.stm]]
Pollution Evidence suggests it is the largest sectoral source of water pollutants, principally animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures. While global figures are unavailable, it is estimated that in the USA livestock and feed crop agriculture are responsible for 37 percent of pesticide use, 50 percent of antibiotic use, and a third of the nitrogen and phosphorus loads in freshwater resources. The sector also generates almost two-thirds of anthropogenic ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems. [[http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm]]
As above, we would remove this point from contention. We agree. We would however at this stage like to draw attention to the proposition's important decision to include in their definition of pollution, for example, "antibiotics, hormones... fertilizers and pesticides." in the remit of their model. We believe this will come to further OUR case, later.
Growing livestock wastes precious grain.
In this argument we are going to show you that growing livestock is inefficient in it's core and that this inefficiency is in fact important enough to limit its occurence.
First off: growing livestock wastes grain. Currently more grain is being used for feeding animals then for humans. If the grain that is used to grow pork, for an example, would be used to feed humans, more humans would get fed as swine use much of the energy of the food that they eat to breathe, keep them self warm etc., which all is in essence energy, that is lost to us.
To talk about why this inefficiency is important enough to limit its occurence, we would like to consider two things: firstly, global population is constantly rising and secondly, some of the population is already living in a food crisis.
We say that from a utilitaristic point of view, if some people can get more food just because other people change what they eat, then we should make the latter change what they eat : The people, that are eating meat today, will have their stomachs full of good food even when they stop eating meat, while stopping eating meat will allow other people, that are currently starving, have access to food, that they currently do not have. Substituting one type of food with another type of food will give us overall more food, which is good because it will lesser the suffering of those who are currently starving.
This point outlines the inefficiency of meat farming, which the opposition fully accepts. However, we must challenge proposition's assumption that grain presently used to feed livestock would necessarily find its way into the mouths of those suffering from a food crisis, even if a tax on meat should lead to a reduction in demand.
The cause of food shortages in the developed world isn't insufficient capacity in the West. It is a detestable fact that there are food surpluses in Europe while children in Africa and elsewhere go hungry. Making our grain mountains higher or our milk lakes deeper won't of itself solve this problem.
Excessive meat production threatens the world’s biodiversity
The sheer quantity of animals being raised for human consumption also poses a threat of the Earth's biodiversity. Livestock account for about 20 percent of the total terrestrial animal biomass, and the land area they now occupy was once habitat for wildlife. In 306 of the 825 terrestrial eco-regions identified by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, livestock are identified as "a current threat", while 23 of Conservation International's 35 "global hotspots for biodiversity" - characterized by serious levels of habitat loss - are affected by livestock production. [[http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm]]
To recap we have presented there is ample scientific evidence that meat production is a threat to the planet. It increases global warming, abuses the water supply and leads to a loss of biodiversity. For further documentation of this we recommend the UN's report "Livestock's Long Shadow", which is available here: [[http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM]] .
That report, as well as scientists and experts working in this field advocate curbing global meat consumption to battle this threat. We are proposing that one of the ways to reduce this threat is for the EU to impose a tax on on meat consumption.
We hope that the proposition isn't genuinely suggesting that an EU excise duty programme would be able to compensate or even significantly mitigate this problem? We believe this point is also irrelevant to the debate, and we join with the proposition in lamenting the loss of biodiversity.
A special EU wide tax on meat consumption would reduce the threat to the planet
We believe the EU wide tax would lead to a reduction of the consumption of meat and therefore reduce the problems that we outline before. The effect of tax incentives on consumers is basically common knowledge, but for the sake of debate we will introduce evidence showing that taxes do reduce consumption, for example in the case of alcohol [[http://www.rwjf.org/publichealth/digest.jsp?id=9381]]. As meat is easy to replace for people with other food products we believe that the effect will be greater than with for example gasoline, which is harder to replace.
The EU right now has taken a broad commitment to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year of 2020. Mostly the responsibility how to arrive at this goal falls on the EU member states. However, in some cases, for example the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs or the aforementioned gas taxes, the EU has also mandated steps that the member countries have to take [[http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/business/energy-environment/01iht-bulb.html]]. We believe that meat consumption is one of these areas where a concrete mandate for action is needed, because it is a field where we need to impact all the consumers’ behavior. In an EU wide free market it would be impossible for particular member states to enact a tax on meat consumption individually as this would put the member state’s meat producers in a competitive disadvantage. Therefore an EU-wide tax is needed.
An EU wide tax would also be a helpful message to the countries in the rest of the world just as the commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions has been. The EU as one of the more developed regions in the world needs to step up and take responsibility for combating the threats to the planet as we have the resources to do so. The president of the EU Comission jose manusel Barroso said so recently, pointing out that the developed world needs to step up and offer help to the developing world. [[http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-GreenBusiness/idUSTRE58J1XZ20090920]]
Finally let us point out that we do not believe that an EU wide tax would solve the problem entirely. But it would be a first step in a process moving towards improvement. So it won't be enough for the opposition to point out that the problem still remains, they need to show how this EU wide tax would make the situation worse. Also we believe that this plan is not mutually exclusive to consumer education campaigns and other government actions that would also help combat excessive meat consumption. To the contrary, we believe that the funds amassed by the tax would help the governments organize such activities. Fot the opposition to win this debate they will either need to prove that
a) Meat consumption is not a threat to the planet or
b) The EU wide tax would not decrease meat consumption or
c) It will have more negative effects that outweigh the positiives that we have outlined in our case.
We hope they'll have fun doing that and look forward to their replies.
Our overarching rebuttal to the proposition's case as it has been set out, can best be summarised by refuting their closing assertion:
‘For the opposition to win…’ ‘they will either need to prove that a) ‘Meat consumption is not a threat to the planet or b) The EU wide tax would not decrease meat consumption or c) It will have more negative effects that outweigh the positives that we have outlined in our case. ‘
Unfortunately they forgot to mention option d) Opps will need to prove that much more efficient means exist to achieve Prop’s aims.
We choose option d.
Thus, we approve of the aim of the proposition to save the planet (it’s where we keep all our stuff) but we strongly disapprove of the means. There are numerous more direct efficient actions the EU could take to better solve the problems Props identify, that don’t have any of the negative consequences their prescription entails.
How do we know this? Well, to make their case, and not being experts in this field, Props have quite sensibly turned to those who are. In so doing they were very fortunate to discover a recent comprehensive report on precisely this topic published by, of all bodies, the UN itself – ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ [their ref] which they commended to us. We found it showed, in a balanced and persuasive manner the damaging impact of the meat industry on climate change, water supply and biodiversity just as the Props report. (Indeed, where Props depart from the UN case, in point three, their argument temporarily breaks down, as we have shown.)
However, being satisfied to accept the UN’s presentation of the case against the meat industry in exactly the terms they set them out, they then choose to depart from this august body’s proposed solutions. Nowhere in this 300-page report is a consumption tax even mentioned.
Instead, the very same report Props commend to us, (and on which they lean so heavily in presenting the environmental damage caused by meat farming), contains a carefully calibrated set of answers both technical and strategic, designed to mitigate these problems on a case by case basis.
To give a sense of how thorough these technical solutions are, listed here are some of the measures meat farmers are exhorted to take to successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions: 'sequestering carbon and mitigating CO2 emissions', 'reversing soil organic carbon losses from degraded pastures', 'reducing CH4 emissions from enteric fermentation through improved efficiency and diets', 'mitigating CH4 emissions through improved manure management and biogas', 'deploying technical options for mitigating N2O emissions and deploying NH3 volatilization.' [Their ref. p115-123]
Each of the problems the report (and Proposition) identify is dealt with on a technical level in this way, based on the central conclusion that 'resource efficiency is the key to shrinking livestock's long shadow'. [Their ref. p 276] We are happy to accept the UN's analysis and to assume these technical solutions are well-judged.
Finally, the report recommends a strategic framework to enable these technical solutions to be put into effect. It is based on two interlocking principles.
1. 'Prices of land, water and feed resources used for livestock production do not reflect true scarcities.' According to the UN, 'this leads to an overuse of these resources by the livestock sector and to major inefficiencies in the production process. Any future policy to protect the environment will, therefore have to introduce adequate market pricing for the main INPUTS'. (Our capitals)
2. 'Environmental externalities, both negative and positive, need to be explicitly factored into the policy framework, through the application of the “provider gets – POLLUTER PAYS” principle'. (Our capitals) [Their ref. p276-277]
We will elaborate on the superiority of the UN's approach over the one advocated by the Proposition in our subsequent more detailed critique.
However for now we leave you with the following question: is it possible that in place of the remedy proposed by dedicated UN scientists, the Props have been able in the time it took them to read the report, to discover a single magic bullet that optimally hits all these targets at once, but which nevertheless eluded the experts? Or is their prescription, as we will show, a blunt instrument that will do more damage than it will good?
This is the battleground on which this debate will be fought, in our view.
Taxation in general has 4 objectives [[http://ocgg.org/fileadmin/Publications/ER008.pdf]], two of these are relevant for this debate: revenue and re-pricing.
We want to start with the second one. One goal of taxation is to re-price certain goods so that “all social costs and benefits of production or consumption of a particular good are reflected in the market price” (same ref.). This is, for example one reason why tobacco is taxed: by increasing the price of tobacco products we want to discourage people from smoking, but also in case they do not stop smoking, they will be paying money to the government who uses some of this money to support a health service, that treats people for illnesses caused by smoking (like cancer).
In case of meat, the price that consumers currently pay does not reflect the damage done to the environment as a result of their consumption practices. We see this as a harm.
As the opposition points out, it is true that it is easier to tax alcohol and tobacco, because it is easier to see the harms they cause: because a violent drunk person is more immediately visible to us than loss of biodiversity or global warming. The fact that these harms are not evident to people is not an argument that nothing should be done.
But moreover, we have pointed out that high consumption of meat as a source of food is simply inefficient. It takes about 7 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef, however the nutrition value of 1 kg of beef is less than 7 kg of grain would be [[http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1626]]. If any other industry were so wastefully inefficient they would be taxed to death (like a car manufacturer using 7 kg of aluminum to produce 1 kg of car)
As for revenue: righting the wrongs caused by excessive meat consumption costs money. The government has limited resources. Putting a tax on meat will produce revenue for the government, some or all of which can be used to mitigate the harms caused by excessive meat production.
Taxing meat across the board is an inappropriate, ineffective and indiscriminate tool with which to attempt to mitigate the damage done to the environment by the industry, because its burden falls as heavily on the responsible farmer as it does on the irresponsible one, and therefore offers no incentive to improve practices. On the contrary, as we have shown, it would put farmers under pressure to cut corners in order to maintain demand.
Pricing inputs and externalities realistically, on the other hand, achieves exactly the Proposition's desired effect: farmers who pollute or are profligate with water, for example, face higher costs. In this way efficiency is rewarded and waste penalised.
A key difference between taxing meat and taxing tobacco and alcohol is public support. We agree the inevitable resistance and outcry over any such proposed meat tax is not an argument that 'nothing should be done' - it is an argument that something else should be done, as we propose.
The point about inefficiency is irrelevant. For this to help their case proposition would need to show how increasing the efficiency of farms in the West would benefit the poor in the developing world, and then how this equates to 'saving the planet'.
The case with respect to revenue is, at best, uncertain for the reasons we've outlined. Meat has an important social and cultural dimension, and much of the price rise will be offset by a rise in demand for cheaper meat and meat products. The scheme will cost money, take an enormous amount of time to ratify and require extensive bureaucracy and policing, costs that need to be borne in advance.
Again contrast this with the UN's suggested plan. By removing subsidies we raise billions of dollars in revenue immediately that can be put to work at once. Half the EU's total budget, or about $50bn is spent on farming subsidies, and agricultural subsidies amount to ‘an average of 32% of total farm income in OECD countries, with livestock products (dairy and beef, in particular) regularly figuring among the most heavily subsidized products.’ [Their ref. P222] And remember the extraordinary environmental benefits of removing them in New Zealand. In addition by pricing inputs realistically we raise immediate revenue. By pricing externalities realistically we increase immediate revenue. And these costs fall proportionately on the farmers responsible for the damage we are endeavouring to repair.
In summary of our debate let us first point out that opposition conceded our point that excessive meat consumption is a danger to the planet. Therefore we can conclude that some action should be taken to alleviate this issue. Therefore we proposed an EU wide tax on meat products, which, coincidentally, is also what the motion called for.
The opposition offered two main areas of contention:
1. That the tax itself would be inefficient, discriminatory and hard to implement and therefore should be scrapped
2. That the alternatives proposed by them (originating from the much referenced UN report) lead to a better outcome and should be implemented instead.
In this summary well show how they’ve failed on both accounts and therefore our case still stands.
1. Issues with the tax itself
Firstly we would like to say that despite the excessive nitpicking on the opposition’s part (and this format does lend itself to picking a ton of nits) we believe that they haven’t managed to rebut our contention that this tax would be feasible to implement and would all in all bring more good than harm. In our substantive case we pointed out two examples where the EU has implemented similar measures despite there also being similar general issues: those were an EU wide mandated minimum gasoline excise tax and a ban on incandescent light bulbs. The main philosophy behind both those actions is the same: we find that excessive consumption of a particular product is harmful to the environment and therefore needs to be regulated on an EU wide basis. We believe the opposition have not pointed out why this also wouldn’t apply to a tax on meat.
Let us now address their issues one by one.
- the tax wouldn’t reduce consumption
We pointed to evidence that showed a correlation between higher price and less consumption. We also pointed out that the demand for meat is less elastic than demand for alcohol, or in other words meat can be fairly easily replaced with other produce (as opposed to alcohol). Therefore we believe that our point stands and the consumption of meat would fall, which, as we both agreed, would be a good thing for the planet.
- Consumers would switch to lower quality or less environmentally conscious products
The evidence in the previous point shows that while some of this might happen there still remains an overall effect of people consuming less of the product that increases in price. We also showed that the subsidies and incentives for consuming for environmentally conscious faming would remain and therefore it shouldn’t experience a difference in demand.
- An indirect tax would be bad for poorer people
Surely this is a problem with all indirect taxes(VAT, excise duties), which isn’t a reason for not having any indirect taxes at all. We want to incentivize people to come off meat so, yes, there needs to be an economic impact on them because of the tax. If we alleviated the tax burden on poorer people the tax wouldn’t have that much effect.
- The EU shouldn’t tax and subsidize the same thing simultaneously
There are a ton of cases where this already happens, most notably gasoline production or VAT.
- The EU can’t get anything done and people will start hating it
According to this logic the EU couldn’t do anything and there would be no point to this debate. We pointed out two examples in the same field – light bulbs and gas tax – where the EU has managed to get things done.
In summary we showed that an EU wide tax would reduce meat consumption and raise revenue for counteracting the damage done to the environment. All in all the tax would do more good than harm and therefore should be implemented.
The alternative is better
The opposition contends that the alternative, as outline by the UN would lead to more efficient results
Firstly we believe that the solution provided by the opposition isn’t mutually exclusive to our solution. We said from the very beginning that our plan does not exclude the possibility of other actions, nor will it solve the problem outright. Therefore we think it’s pointless to compare the two plans, but rather actions should be taken to implement them both.
The solution offered by the opposition – regulating inputs, subsidies and polluters all deal with the supply side of meat consumption. This is all well and good, but we believe a robust solution dealing with the demand side of the equation is also needed and therefore have proposed a tax. If we look at for example the field of fossile fuels we also see that we have solutions regulating both the supply and demand sides of the equation.
Let us also point out a contradiction in the oppositions case. On the one hand they want to eliminate subsidies going to meat producers, but on the other hand they support the CAP, because it encourages environmentally sound practices. But the CAP is precicely the kind of subsidy the UN is talking about eliminating.
The model will not reduce consumption.
Our case has two strands: the weaknesses of the proposed model, and the availability of superior alternatives.
To address the first of these first. If an excise duty is placed on meat, there are two ways a consumer might respond:
a) Cut meat consumption
b) Downgrade to lower quality, cheaper meat.
Proposition side appear to assume the former will result, we are less sure. It only takes simple economic logic to work out why.
The demand for a larger category of good is always less elastic than that of its sub-category, it being less substitutable. So for example the demand for 'vegetables' as a whole will be much less responsive to a price change (elastic) than will demand for 'carrots' it being easy to substitute carrots for, say, parsnips in response to a price rise. Wal-Mart's carrots will be even more elastic, as a further subcategory.
By this token, rather than switch categories when faced with a price rise, consumers are more likely to move to a sub-category in this case 'cheaper meat', where possible.
This argument is compounded by the notion that products that are a part of people's day to day lives, like alcohol in this respect, are notoriously insensitive to excise duty. Your alcohol example was based on a study that looked at the purchasing patterns of literally 112 people. That is incapable of supporting any argument. Increases in duty on alcohol in the UK, for example, have been accompanied by a rise in consumption of epidemic proportions.
This is our first rebuttal point: this model will not significantly cut meat consumption.
First of all the article we cited in our alcohol example reviewed "results from 112 studies evaluating the link between alcohol pricing and consumption", not 112 people. They did find that "higher alcohol prices, usually stemming from increased taxes, help limit consumption of all alcoholic beverages across all age groups". The argument still holds, increasing the price of meat will reduce consumption. Another example to illustrate the link between price and consumption: in Finland in 2004 alcohol consumption increased by 10%, one of the contributing reasons being a decrease on alcohol tax. [[http://www.paihdelinkki.fi/Articles/111-alcohol-use-in-finland]]
It is likely that people will downgrade to lower quality of meat, as we also said, we do not think a tax will remove the problem entirely. But the downgrading of consumption cannot account for the whole effect of tax on people. In the case of alcohol, there is also an option to instead of limiting consumption to downgrade - instead of buying the cognac you could just get the vodka, you get just as drunk.
So of course people will downgrade, they will also reduce consumption.
Some negative implications of 'trading down'.
The fact consumers, faced with a price increase would downgrade to lower quality meat is salient here, because the effect of this would be specifically counter to the motion's objective to reduce harm to the environment.
We see two ways in which consumers could obtain cheaper meat, they are to:
a) Downgrade to lower quality meat, ie. Non-organic and battery farmed meat products.
b) Import meat from where it can be produced more cheaply.
Unfortunately, the lack of clarity in the motion prevents us from understanding how viable the second option would be to a consumer, but if it were viable, then we contend the freight costs involved in shipping or flying meat around the country are completely counter-productive to their case.
As far as the former goes, we see this to be unequivocally the most likely outcome of a tax imposition that raises the cost of meat across the board. Organic meat would be the first to go, as we have seen demand for it fall already in times of recession. The same is true of free-range and ethically produced meat products.
We return the reader now to proposition's argument number 2 which we flagged earlier. They lamented the pollution caused by meat production by way of the "antibiotics, hormones... fertilizers and pesticides" involved in the industry.
We know then, from this statement, that Prop will be equally horrified at the prospect of meat consumers switching away from organically produced meat which avoids all these to lower quality, more polluting meat producers. By their definition of saving the planet, this effect is counter to their objective.
Regarding downgrading to lower quality of meat: the opposition themselves point out later on that the EU has means to address this issue by subsidizing responsible farmers. The problem is, such subsidies require money. It makes sense that meat eaters pay the tax to let the government clean up the mess they create.
Not all meat is or will be produced organically. Some consumers still buy such irresponsibly produced meat. Taxing them will give us revenue that we can use to mitigate the harms of meat production. One of the ways we can do this is to encourage responsible production of meat.
The UN disagrees.
We saw earlier that the UN isolated two key principles to mitigating the harm done by meat farming to the environment.
We will now elaborate briefly on those principles; why the Prop's case undermines them, and why the represent better solutions.
1. 'Prices of land, water and feed resources used for livestock production do not reflect true scarcities.' According to the UN, 'this leads to an overuse of these resources by the livestock sector and to major inefficiencies in the production process. Any future policy to protect the environment will, therefore have to introduce adequate market pricing for the main INPUTS'. (Our capitals) [their ref. p 276]
The UN's suggested methods of introducing 'adequate pricing' for the main inputs are clearly stated.
Water, for example is especially under-priced in most countries. To solve this problem the UN recommends the creation of 'water markets and different types of cost recovery' that 'have been identified as suitable mechanisms to correct the situation.'
The true cost of land can be reflected by 'instruments' which 'include the introduction and adjustment of grazing fees and lease rates, and improved institutional arrangements for controlled and equitable access'. [their ref. p 277]
Another key suggestion, which flies directly in the face of the Prop's idea, is 'the removal of price support at product level (i.e. the production subsidies for livestock products in the majority of industrialized countries)' The UN cites the case of New Zealand where the simple act of removing these subsidies resulted in ‘what has become one of the most efficient and environmentally benign ruminant livestock industries!’ [their ref. p 277]
The UN's second prescription to mitigate the environmental damage caused by meat farming was as follows:
2. 'Environmental externalities, both negative and positive, need to be explicitly factored into the policy framework, through the application of the “provider gets – POLLUTER PAYS” principle'. (Our capitals) [Their ref. p276-277]
Presumably we do not need to defend this principle too strongly. The UN itself is content to say that: 'correcting for externalities, both positive and negative, will lead livestock producers into management choices that are less costly to the environment.‘
By adopting these two principles, the UN report concludes:
'Correcting for distortions and externalities will bring us a step closer to prices for both inputs and outputs that reflect the true scarcities of production factors and natural resources used. These changed prices will induce technological change that will make better use of resources, and limit pollution and waste. Producers have shown their ability to respond quickly and decisively when such price signals are sent consistently.’
[their ref. p277]
We agree with the UN's solution, not the Proposition's.
The solutions that the UN proposes are all fine and do not exclude having a tax on meat consumption. As we stated in our argument “we do not believe that an EU wide tax would solve the problem entirely. But it would be a first step in a process moving towards improvement.”
The opposition argue for something they call "provider gets – POLLUTER PAYS". They never clearly explain what they mean by this. People buying meat are the reason producers produce meat. The production of meat leads to pollution. We think it makes sense to tax the consumer. The same way there is a tax on buying gasoline, because burning gasoline produces pollution. We think it makes sense that the persons who enjoy the result of the polluting action need to pay the tax.
But moreover, many of the methods the opposition outline here and in other points: from the technical solutions they brought in a point of rebuttal (like 'sequestering carbon and mitigating CO2 emissions' etc.) to giving subsidies to responsible farmers - they all require money to do. They are all means to correct the results of the irresponsible acts of some people. It makes sense that these some people who enjoy the results of their acts also pay the bill. The same way taxes on using roads are paid by people who use the roads and are used to repair and maintain the roads.
The inequality of an indirect tax
The tax that the proposition seeks to impose on meat products would adversely affect consumers of meat on lower incomes. This is because the increase in price the tax would add to meat products represents a larger proportion of the income of a lower-income consumer than one on a higher income. This means that the opportunity cost of buying meat for a lower income consumer increases at a higher rate than the higher income consumer when the tax raises prices.
The opposition may argue that surely if governments do not find the inequality which arises from excise duties on alcohol and cigarettes a large enough issue to avoid this form of taxation, then surely the same can be said for meat. However, the difference with meat is that, as we on the opposition shall be discussing, there are methods of reducing the negative effects meat consumption on our planet, without simultaneously generating an additional harm, one of greater social inequality. In the cases of alcohol and cigarettes, this greater social inequality is perceived as justified. This is because the products themselves are viewed as harmful not only to the consumers themselves but can lead to harms to those other than the consumer, through the consumer's own direct practices. It is not the direct effect of the consumption of the meat product itself that we would wish to be reduced (ignoring the fact that yes, excessive amounts of any food is bad for your health), for no one fears anti-social behaviour in one with a penchant for meat as they do an alcohol abuser, but the indirect harms such as the soil erosion effects to land which is used for livestock farming.
For many, meat is a necessity in terms of a balanced diet, unless we are to expect a total upheaval of consumption patterns right away. Therefore, we can see that the problem lies mainly in the practices exercised on the side of supply, rather than in the demand itself, and so approaching the situation from an angle which wishes to influence demand is not the most efficient.
This argument is not consistent with the previous point.
In the previous point the opposition argued for "adequate market pricing for the main INPUTS" - land, water and feed, which are currently too cheap. If the inputs to production are made more expensive, the producers need to adjust the price of the product to still make a profit. So either way the price of meat will increase and either way, people with lower incomes will be "adversely affected".
The tax would disincentivise environmentally sensitive farming.
The opposition wish to draw attention in particular to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the implications of this tax proposal on this system of subsidies which in 2006 accounted for 45.4% of the EU's budget.
Were the EU to adopt the Prop's plan therefore, this would put them in the extraordinary position of simultaneously paying farmers huge subsidies and taxing their product!
Furthermore, the proposition’s tax on meat would surely be in direct opposition to CAP’s current stance of making “payments conditional on farmers meeting environmental and animal welfare standards and keeping their land in good condition” [[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4407792.stm]].
CAP wishes to encourage farmers to engage in practices which are environmentally friendly by subsidising farmers who do so to the point they can compete in the industry with farmers who choose cheaper, more environmentally harmful methods of production.
It does this by providing more generous subsidies to those who go into organic production, as of 2000 “funds can be given to…encourage organic farming” [[http://www.economicshelp.org/europe/cap.html]]. This is because the EU recognises that it is the intensive breeding of livestock and poultry that lead to the harms that are associated with meat consumption (‘intensive’ being the word to note). The blunt tool that is a blanket tax on meat would not only render a large amount of money spent on European farming wasted, but the extra subsidies provided to organic farmers. This is because the increase in price the tax would impose on organically farmed products would see the practice of organic farming resume an uncompetitive status.
The tax proposition endorses no longer sees it viable for countries within the EU to produce their meat organically to compete with the economies of scale style production of cheap meat imported from, for instance, Brazil or Argentina. With the EU even expressing the view that “It is important to ensure that trade does not undermine the EU’s efforts to improve the protection of the welfare of animals for example” [[http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/publi/fact/meat/2004_en.pdf]] we ought to realise that proposition's scheme would be counter-productive in influencing the methods of meat production to gravitate towards environmentally practice, which the EU is actually taking great strides to do.
What we are seeing here, is the fundamental unsuitability of using a consumption tax to achieve environmental aims.
By removing subsidies and pricing externalities and inputs realistically, farmers who adopt more efficient environmentally sensitive practices win in the market place. In this way the market aligns the aims of consumers with the aims of the environment, precisely as the UN recommends.
But by placing a tax on consumption across the board, you remove the means and incentive for consumers to seek out more responsibly farmed meat (and very possibly create an incentive for them to increase consumption of less-responsibly produced livestock) while at the same time removing any incentive for producers to clean up their act.
First of all, we are already in the position "of simultaneously paying farmers huge subsidies and taxing their product". Some farmers among other producers already receive all manner of subsidies from their governments - like for example the ones who use organic farming techniques being supported by CAP, that opposition points out. If the farmers then go on to sell what they produce, these products have value added tax on them. Subsidies and the VAT have both existed for a while now. Nothing extraordinary there.
But secondly, we do not see why it follows that environmentally sound farming techniques will die out. The CAP will remain in place. And as we said earlier, we do not think that the tax is the only thing we need to do to address the problems we have outlined. Subsidizing sound farming practices so that they can be competitive is a good thing to do. Money from the CAP can still be given for this.
Regarding cheaply produced meat imported from Brazil and Argentina. Producing meat in these countries is already cheaper at the moment. The EU can do nothing to make production of meat in these countries more expensive. Taxing the consumption of meat will make it more expensive regardless of where it was produced.
In answer to Prop's rebuttal of Point 1.
We are pleased that Props concede that due to their measure 'people will downgrade to lower quality of meat' with all the contingent negative environmental consequences this entails.
In answer to Prop's rebuttal of our second point.
We've shown how Prop's model incentivises consumers to seek out cheaper meat, and how this might exacerbate the damage done by meat farmers to the environment.
To this Props say the revenue the tax raises and that creates this incentive can be used to pay the government to clean up the mess (which the tax itself helped create) and to encourage responsible production of meat!
But if it's within our power to encourage responsible production of meat, why not just do so in the first place, as we advocate, without first making the problem worse? Particularly as our model enables us to raise more money, more surely, more promptly and in a fashion that automatically bears down on bad farming practices and rewards responsible ones?
Rebutting Prop's argument against our Point 3.
The principle that the polluter pays is a guiding principle of the UN's throughout the report Opps referred us to. This is why we didn't define it. Nevertheless, here it is defined by the OECD:
'a concept where manufacturers and importers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product life-cycle, including upstream impacts inherent in the selection of materials for the products, impacts from manufacturers’ production process itself, and downstream impacts from the use and disposal of the products. Producers accept their responsibility when designing their products to minimise life-cycle environmental impacts, and when accepting legal, physical or socio-economic responsibility for environmental impacts that cannot be eliminated by design.'
Opps say that 'people buying meat are the reason producers produce meat. The production of meat leads to pollution.' But we would seek to refine this by saying that not all meat production leads to pollution and some does more than others. This is why the principle that the polluter should pay is so important, it ensures price properly reflects environmental damage caused. In the Prop's model however, even if I am extremely careful to buy only organic, responsibly farmed meat, and therefore am not enjoying 'the result of the polluting action' I still 'need to pay the tax'. While if I care not a jot for how my meat was farmed, I pay the same.
In the second part of their rebuttal, Props say that our proposals 'all require money to do' this is simply not true.
We say (for the umpteenth time) inputs should be properly priced, externalities charged for and subsidies removed. All three of these measures simultaneously tackle the problems Props wish to solve and raise revenue.
Props then contend that since these measures are necessary to 'correct the results of the irresponsible acts of some people. It makes sense that these some people who enjoy the results of their acts also pay the bill.' But as we show above this will not happen in their plan and does happen in ours.
Rebutting Prop's rebuttal to our fourth point .
We are intuitively opposed to regressive taxation for the reasons outlined. There is no conflict between this position and the wish to see a greater good: that the price of meat reflect the true environmental costs of its production. Particularly as our model incentivises the reduction of these costs in as efficient a manner as possible.
Farmers will find ways to reduce these costs or go out of business, and in the process they will reduce their impact on the environment in a way they are not incentivised to do in the Prop's model.
In answer to Prop's rebuttal to our point 5.
VAT is imposed by national governments on all products. CAP is an EU subsidy that specifically targets agriculture for financial support on a massive scale. The plan Props recommend is, therefore, extraordinary in the history of economics for the simple reason that the same organisation (the EU) would simultaneously be singling out the same industry for special subsidies and taxes.
Taking the comparison Props are so fond of making with Tobacco and Alcohol, this is equivalent to paying tobacco manufacturers and distillers subsidies at the same time as charging them excise duties, something of a mixed message.
For people so happy to tax their own farmers indiscriminately, Prop show strange reluctance to extend this principle to the only place where it might actually do some good.
They concede our argument that raising the price of meat in the EU might lead to an increase in demand for cheaper imported meat with all the enormous environmental damage this brings with it. But then go on to say: 'the EU can do nothing to make production of meat in these countries more expensive'.
Well, the EU may not be able to make production of foreign meat more expensive, but that is irrelevant to the case, because the EU can, very simply, make the price of it more expensive by, you've guessed it, placing an excise duty on meat produced OUTSIDE THE EU. This, at least, would make some environmental sense since imported meat attracts immeasurably higher environmental costs as we will show in our final point.
Proposition plan will take too long to implement
When your house is on fire, you don't send a letter to the fire brigade.
Props began their argument with strong words about the urgency of the situation the planet is in. Just contemplate for a moment the length of time the plan they propose to combat this perilous threat would take to put into effect.
We begin with a commission charged to produce a report, a year or two later this leads to a consultation document. After this has done the rounds and all the various vested interests have had their say, maybe, a tentative draft proposal could be produced... You get the picture. We wonder if the Props are lawyers, as only a lawyer could view this prospect with any satisfaction.
(By the way, we would love to be a fly on the wall when Props put their plan to that most reasonable and law-abiding community: the French farmers. And we don't suppose for a moment it would occur to British farmers to do anything so silly as protest this irrational and indiscriminate tax by blockading channel ports? Not to be outdone we notice that last May thousands of German farmers protested against increased taxes on diesel by driving their tractors through Berlin. How much more animated will farmers' ire be when it is directed against those already-resented 'unelected fat cat MEPs' as they are styled in the popular press.)
Even the agreement (if it could ever be reached) is not the end of the affair of course. An enormous bureaucracy would need to be created; new powers granted to customs' officers to prevent evasion, and so on.
And all for what? To possibly create a marginal reduction in demand for meat, at some point in the future, not even conditional on improving environmental practice, likely to incentivise further environmental damage, in the expectation that this will ameliorate the destruction of the planet that is taking place at an accelerating rate today.
Our planet is on fire, let's not send a letter to the fire brigade.
Proposition plan will undermine the EU
The EU is already viewed with suspicion in many of its member states. Even France couldn't pass its constitution in 2007 and Ireland and Holland also voted against.
The only way Britain became a signatory to the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties was by negotiating a series of 'opt-out' clauses that prevented the EU being able to mandate precisely the kind of interference in local affairs Props plan represents.
What tenuous mandate the EU has to affect the live of the citizens of its member states is, in short, fragile, and dependent on the principle of 'subsidiarity' which Prop's plan clearly violates. Given our earlier experience, we define this principle below:
Subsidiarity 'is presently best known as a fundamental principle of European Union law. According to this principle, the EU may only act (i.e. make laws) where action of individual countries is insufficient. The principle was established in the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, and was contained within the failed Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe. However, at the local level it was already a key element of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, an instrument of the Council of Europe promulgated in 1985.' (see Article 4, Paragraph 3 of the Charter) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subsidiarity]
In this political and economic climate, faced with the prospect of more expensive meat mandated by the EU (that subsidises farmers to the tune of $50bn a year) isn't it certain that most EU citizens would prefer to keep their cheaper meat and do without the EU instead?
Fiddling while the Amazon burns.
In its opening remarks Proposition drew our attention to two ways meat production damaged the environment most egregiously: through deforestation and reducing biodiversity.
Let us try to put these threats into some kind of global context. (We quote from the UN report unless stated otherwise.)
The first thing to note is that expansion of livestock farming and expansion of pasture areas into natural eco-systems 'has essentially come to an end in most parts of the world, except for Latin America..' '..and central Africa.' [p256]
Secondly, 'compared to the amounts of carbon released from changes in land use and land-degradation, emissions from the food chain are small'. [p115l
This leads the UN to conclude that 'creating incentives for forest conservation and decreased deforestation, in Amazonia and other tropical areas, can offer a unique opportunity for climate change mitigation given the..’ ‘..relative low costs.’ [p116]
It's also true that these same tropical forests while they account for only '8% of the world’s land surface...'. also '..hold more than 50% of the world’s species. Tropical regions support two-thirds of the estimated 250 000 plant species and 30% of bird species’ [p183]
The UN points out that Latin America is the continent where livestock production accounts most directly for deforestation, estimating that over the past decade 24 million hectares of neotropical land have been given over to grazing. [p187]
In contrast, in Europe today ‘traditional grazing is seen as having positively affected biodiversity in pastures, by creating and maintaining sward structural heterogeneity, particularly as a result of dietary choice.’ [Rook et al 2004]
The UN agrees: 'in some contexts (e.g. Europe) extensive grazing may provide a tool to maintain a threatened but ecologically valuable level of landscape heterogeneity.’ [p188]
The last piece of the puzzle we need to finish the picture is demand. Here again the problem is not with Europe, where demand for meat has remained relatively static, but in the developing world, especially China, where, as the Props have pointed out demand for meat is expected to grow exponentially.
In this context circuitously reducing demand for meat and meat products in Europe, in a manner that risks actually increasing our appetite for cheaper imported meat as per props plan, will exacerbate rather than mitigate the impending environmental catastrophe awaiting us.
Proposition is barking up the wrong tree, with the wrong dog.
Proposition argued meat production presented four threats to the planet: it contributed to global warming, damaged the water supply, reduced bio-diversity and wasted grain. They went on to say that a European excise tax on meat was the ‘appropriate remedy’.
We accepted the first three threats were real and the aim to correct them was desirable, but we disagreed that taxing meat consumption would solve the problem.
We didn’t believe the fourth threat was genuine at all, so perhaps we can get this out of the way before summarising our objections to using taxation as an instrument to solve the others.
Their chain of reasoning went as follows: ‘growing livestock wastes grain…’ ‘…if the grain that is used to grow pork, for an example, would be used to feed humans more humans would get fed…’
We were happy to concede the first point: that growing livestock is comparatively wasteful of grain, but we couldn’t see how, nor did Proposition ever establish, this argued for a European tax on meat consumption. As we put this in our rebuttal, the cause of people going hungry in the developing world isn’t a lack of capacity in the West. To make this point stick Proposition would need to show how making European farming less wasteful of grain (even if this was the outcome of their proposal) would assist the cause of those going without food elsewhere. They were not able to do so.
This said, the main focus of the debate became the suitability or otherwise of an excise tax as a way of tackling the three genuine threats to the environment caused by meat production.
Proposition advocated this approach on two grounds, to reduce demand and to raise revenue ‘some or all of which can be used to mitigate the harms caused by excessive meat production.’
Again, we felt the second purpose of the tax could be dismissed relatively easily. This is because at present farming in general and livestock farming in particular, benefits from enormous financial support from the EU. Props would maintain these subsidies and simultaneously tax the product they help subsidise. We saw this is as economic madness when the simple expedient of dispensing with them achieved everything Props desired in a way that was guaranteed to provide revenue in a much more timely fashion. This is the approach preferred by the UN, which cites the case of New Zealand where the simple act of removing these subsidies resulted in ‘what has become one of the most efficient and environmentally benign ruminant livestock industries!’ [their ref. p 277]
Having dismissed Prop’s plan to raise revenue as economically flawed, it wasn't even clear, in our view, that Prop’s plan would raise money, or that its impact on consumption would be without serious negative consequences. This was the third area of contention to which we now turn.
We believe that rather than simply stop eating meat altogether when faced with a price rise consumers would seek out cheaper cuts or sources of meat, a point Props conceded. Both actions have the potential to exacerbate the damage done to the environment by meat production. We have seen, for example, how the recession has led to a fall in demand of organically produced meat. And since the tax is indiscriminate, i.e. it does not favour farmers who employ these better environmental practices, it will simply add to this pressure on organic or otherwise more ethical farmers. Meanwhile those farmers who use every means at their disposal to lower costs, including "antibiotics, hormones... fertilizers and pesticides" will be rewarded for these bad practices.
Another beneficiary of the Props plan will be farmers operating in parts of the world with a comparative economic advantage over the EU, such as Latin America. Props shrugged their shoulders at this prospect, saying simply that their meat is ‘already cheaper at the moment’ and there is nothing the EU can do about it.
We found this attitude extraordinary in the context of their overall economic approach and the global context of the problem. The real battleground in the fight against climate change and to preserve biodiversity is the tropical rainforests, and Latin America is the continent where these precious cradles of life are most under threat from the encroachment of livestock farmers. Surely what tenuous grounds Props have for their attempt to reduce European demand for meat is dependent upon directing consumption away from meat produced in these vital habitats, not towards them?
Their plan, will have the same impact on costs 'regardless of where it was produced', this is precisely the problem. We seek to make the cost of meat reflect the environmental harm caused in its production. Thus meat produced on land reclaimed from tropical rain forests would in our plan be priced out of the market, while in theirs it becomes relatively more attractive to consume.
What makes their defeatism even harder to understand is their preferred mechanism, excise tax, is particularly well-suited to combating this problem, by making imported meat more expensive.
We ended our critique of Prop’s plan by pointing out that the glacial speed at which the EU could institute it was entirely out of step with their presentation of the crisis. We further doubted whether the EU had the level of support among its citizens or member states to pass it into law, and we bemoaned it as a distraction from the far more pressing problem of tackling the explosion of demand in the developing world and its likely devastating impact on tropical habitats.
Throughout our critique we were able to show that far more effective means were available to the EU to combat the threats Props identified, that did not suffer from the critical deficiencies of Props’ plan. We based this on the UN’s own analysis that the key to reducing livestock’s long shadow was resource efficiency. And that the most effective way to achieve this was by ensuring inputs and externalities were priced realistically and subsidies removed.
Between them these three measures would ensure the price of meat reflected the true environmental cost of its production, wherever it took place, elegantly aligning the interests of consumers and the environment in a manner proposition's plan so singularly, and disastrously, fails to do.
What do you think?