Meat is a junk item – still is. And that although it has been known for years that cheap meat comes with a big catch. Ethically questionable animal husbandry is only one aspect. Again and again there are attempts to make meat more expensive and thus to steer consumer behavior in a more sustainable direction. An idea: a meat tax. The finance minister has been reluctant to do so and is pretty much alone. Because the Germans, at least that is the result of a survey, support such a tax – but on one condition.

Researchers at Universit├Ąt Hamburg simulated a referendum in which 2,800 adults were asked to indicate whether they would vote for a meat tax for six tax amounts. The study is considered representative for Germany. 62 percent of the participants stated that they agreed with a tax of 19 percent on the kilogram of meat. The higher the tax, the lower the approval. A tax of 1.56 euros per kilogram would therefore be only 23 percent of those surveyed willing to pay. And: The acceptance is linked to the reason for the additional price.

It was shown that the acceptance of the tax was significantly higher when it was called an “animal welfare tax” than when it was called a “climate tax”. According to the study, the income would be invested in improving husbandry conditions or in climate protection. A slim majority supported this and was willing to pay 39 cents more per kilogram if it was an “animal welfare tax”.

But how useful is such a fixed fee really? And would this change anything at all in terms of meat consumption, animal welfare or environmental protection? Tobias Gaugler is Professor of Management in the Organic Industry. He points out that saying and doing, fictional scenario and reality, do not always correspond and refers to a possible “attitude-bevaior-gap”. This is the gap between the attitude and the actual behavior of the participants. In short: Would so many agree to a tax if they actually had to pay it?

Professor Achim Spiller is Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture for “Agricultural Policy, Nutrition and Consumer Health Protection” (WBAE). For him, the study provides further confirmation that “animal welfare is a particularly important purchasing motive and is particularly suitable as a justification for a tax – better than climate protection.” He is one of the proponents of a comprehensive sustainability tax on food.

In his opinion, a tax surcharge calculated per kilogram in the form of an animal welfare levy, as proposed in the study, has the advantage that more animal-friendly products such as organic meat are not disadvantaged compared to inexpensive products; in contrast to an increase in VAT, which would widen the price gap even further for the high-value products. “The high price premium for organic and animal welfare meat is already a key barrier to purchase, which has contributed to the fact that the market share in Germany has been very low,” he says.

Linus Mattauch, junior professor for the sustainable use of natural resources in the Faculty of Economics and Management at the Technical University of Berlin, believes that the fact that pricing meat would really reduce meat consumption has been scientifically proven very robustly and extensively. He says: “This would also reduce the negative environmental consequences of factory farming – from greenhouse gases to nitrates in groundwater and air pollution to deforestation from the cultivation of animal feed.”

What is less clear, however, is that meat pricing in itself increases animal welfare. “However, the income from meat pricing could be used to finance improvements in animal welfare. Improvements in husbandry conditions are expensive and cannot be implemented by the breeding farms without specific regulation,” he explains. Spiller is also in favor of the fact that the revenue from a meat tax should flow specifically into supporting the restructuring of animal husbandry.

A blanket price increase, as proposed in the study, would make cheap meat more expensive. The Science Media Center calculates: “A kilogram of mixed minced meat currently costs around 8 euros at Rewe and 19 euros in the organic version. A flat-rate price increase of 40 cents would therefore mean a price increase of around five percent for minced meat at discounter prices, for organic minced meat on the other hand, just over two percent.”

Would the increased price actually contribute to falling meat consumption? Spiller is convinced of it. “The studies available – which were carried out before the current inflationary price crisis, however – indicate a decline that, with a price increase of ten percent, for example, leads to a reduction in demand of around four to five percent,” he calculates. In view of the currently increased price sensitivity of consumers, the reaction could also be a little stronger, he thinks.

Not to forget that additional costs especially affect those who are financially weak. Gaugler also criticizes this. If the meat price is taxed, no social compensation is taken into account. “Meat could thus become a luxury good and be inaccessible to citizens who are socio-economically underprivileged,” Gaugler complains.

Source: Nature, Food, Science Media Center, Federal Environment Agency