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It's Time for Extra Taxes on Beef

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Governments use taxes to not only raise revenue to support operations of the state, but to influence consumer behaviour. Currently, policy in many countries determines that “undesirable” behaviour including the consumption of alcohol and tobacco should be limited through elevated levels of taxation. This not only serves as an instrument to reduce product affordability but also takes into account the increased costs to society flowing from them. It is undoubtedly “possible to improve overall welfare by taxing the consumption of particular commodities that cause social harm.” (Australian Treasury, 2008)

But do we have a blind spot for even more costly ills? If we are going to be serious about apportioning taxes where they are most deserved, we ought to be setting high taxes on one class of products in particular: red meat.

There are many reasons why red meat should be our focus:

  • Land use: 28 times more land is required to produce beef than pork or chicken

  • Water: 11 times more than alternative meats

  • Emissions: Fuels 5 times more climate-change inducing atmospheric pollution than alternatives

  • If we compare to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring “160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases.” (The Guardian, 2014)

Put simply, beef as a source of nutrition is incredibly inefficient. Further, consider that:

  • Raising beef is the primary driver of deforestation in Latin America and, perhaps, globally (UCS USA, 2018)

  • “Cows are incredibly inefficient at converting grain to meat; the loss of 1 kilogram of beef has the same effect as wasting 24 kilograms of wheat.” (IFL Science, 2018)

  • Red meat is a significant risk factor for disease, including certain cancers (ABC, 2015).

  • There are significant, frightful ethical concerns around the raising of beef cattle and especially cruel practices when it comes to slaughter (Rollingstone, 2018).

One familiar retort is that beef is a source of protein, necessary for good health. Yet, there are many excellent sources of protein that are not only cheaper but much better for you. These include beans, seeds, nuts and peas, just to name a few (Medical Daily, 2014; EcoWatch, 2015). As an intermediate, consumers wanting to retain a meat-rich diet will at least switch to less-damaging alternatives, now being more affordable.

Taking all this information into account, we may well be convinced in principal of the merits of a direct tax on beef. How do we know, however, that these taxes will have a notable impact? Several studies have been done in this area on other goods produced in the economy (namely cigarettes and alcohol), but we also have modelling to draw on specific to meat and dairy. One such study found that beef is the "most important [meat and dairy product] to regulate for all emission reductions", showing that “Meat and dairy taxes in Sweden could reduce emissions of GHG, nitrogen and phosphorus up to 12% from the sector.”

We hope this article will promote reflection and debate on this important topic. Through our everyday choices, we can all make a positive difference. Perhaps we can promote reflection among the people around us, as well.


ABC, 2015. “Bacon, sausages, ham and other processed meats are cancer-causing, red meat probably is too: WHO”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

Australian Treasury, 2008. “Australia's Future Tax System - Consultation Paper”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

EcoWatch, 2015. “15 Best Protein Alternatives to Meat Besides Tofu”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

IFL Science, 2018. “New Study Says Beef 10x More Damaging To The Environment Than Chicken, Pork Or Dairy Foods”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

Medical Daily, 2014 (Caba, J.) “Meatless Protein: 7 Great Sources Of Protein Other Than Meat”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

Rollingstone, 2018. “In the Belly of the Beast”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

Science Direct, 2015. (Säll, S. & Marie-Gren, I.). “Effects of an environmental tax on meat and dairy consumption in Sweden”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

The Guardian, 2014 (Carrington, D.). “Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, says expert”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.

Union of Concerned Scientists, USA (2018). “Beef Cattle”. Last Accessed: 08/08/18.


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