• Glenn

On Beef Consumption: Taxes not the Solution [Rebuttal]

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Having recently read Richard’s article concerning the problems of beef production and consumption (particularly in the West), I felt compelled to write a kind of rebuttal. While I generally acknowledge that this represents a major environmental problem, I find myself in fervent disagreement on several points – hopefully important enough and in sufficiently stark contrast to merit blogging about. I won’t be citing any resources, but I think my points would stand up to the test of common sense for many interested readers.

I probably won’t find agreement with the other contributors, though.

Just looking at the issue realistically, I think that beef consumption is firmly entrenched as a part of our culture. It’s something people have grown up with, having a deep connection to “quality time” with family and friends. This won’t be changing any time soon. Rightly or wrongly, people also associate it with vigour and good health.

Increasing cost through taxes I think is unlikely to cause a major shift in purchasing behaviour. In my view, Richard overestimates how “elastic” demand for beef is; people will buy regardless. The household will just—for the most part—take a hit on some non-essential products. Of course, this will affect low-income people the most, a kind of unfair punishment.

I would also argue that this kind of proposal can also set a bad precedent. That is, I am cautious of the idea in principle that government interference through taxation is always (or often) the answer. Education, though, seems entirely appropriate, where based on the best scientific evidence available. Change brought about in this way can only be a good thing.

Given the number of livelihoods at stake, a controlled reduction in consumption (and therefore production) over time is going to be the only achievable path forward. The lucrative export markets are not going anywhere, though. Ongoing improvements in efficiency through innovation are not only prudent but necessary and ethical.

Maybe in the not-to-distant future lab-grown meat will take off, solving a great deal of the associated environmental problems for us. The disruption to the status quo would be severe, though, to say the least.

- So, there’s my two cents.