First the taxman came for your cigars, now he might be coming for your steak.
That's according to a new report sent to Business Insider by research company Fitch Solutions, which concluded that "sin taxes" – levies on products deemed undesirable like tobacco, sugary foods and drinks – could soon be applied to meat.
"Governments could leverage on this demand for more sustainability and tax the consumer instead of implementing stricter environmental production regulations," Fitch first suggested in May.
Since then, new research by the company predicts such a tax could go global, due to environmental, health and ethical concerns.
"The global rise of sugar taxes makes it easy to envisage a similar wave of regulatory measures targeting the meat industry," Fitch told Business Insider.
Read more: Why online-meat-delivery startups and imitation-meat brands are simultaneously thriving in today's food world
Just last week, a coalition of cross-party German politicians proposed hiking the value-added tax (VAT) on meat from 7% to 19% in the hopes of cutting consumption.
Like sugar, red meat has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, which Fitch said laid the groundwork for similar taxes. A study by University of Oxford, for example, found introducing the measure could prevent almost 6,000 deaths a year and save nearly $850 million in healthcare costs.
The carbon production of different foods.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) and CleanMetrics
"A meat tax could, therefore, emerge as a policy sibling to the sugar tax, supported on the basis that meat does play a role in a balanced diet but over-consumption is a public health issue," it concluded.
Unlike sugar, however, the justification for restricting people's appetite for meat relates to broader issues than just health, with climate change, deforestation, and ethical concerns all looming large in the minds of consumers.
Read more: Most of the meat we eat won't come from animals by the year 2040, according to a report
It comes hot on the heels of a UN report which found that the human food system accounts for 37% of all greenhouse-gas emissions.
The production of meat – and especially red meat – is responsible for much of that. A 2011 study found that lamb, followed by beef, are by far the worst offenders.
These concerns have supported the growing uptake of meat-free diets. Meat alternatives have begun going mainstream, with companies like Beyond Meat enjoying considerable success.
Beef and veal consumption per capita.
National Statistics, Fitch Solutions
"We are already witnessing consumers cut back on red meat across a number of developed markets globally, supported by the increasing popularity of vegan, vegetarian and 'flexitarian' diets. Younger, urbanised consumers are the main drivers of meat-free diets, suggesting that this will be a long-term trend," Fitch said.
"Introducing a tax on meat would likely accelerate this trend, encouraging consumers to moderate consumption of red meat by switching to poultry or plant-based proteins."
So how far could this spread?
Despite once being considered a fringe policy issue, sugar taxes certainly managed to spread around the world to countries as different as the UK, Mexico and Dubai — where the tax is a whopping 50%.
A meat tax could similarly raise prices to the point where consumption falls. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), taxes that hike the price of sugary drinks by 20%, reduce consumption by around the same amount.
Top 5 meat producers globally.
If taxes were as successful at constraining the global appetite for meat, the reduction in carbon emissions could be enormous.
Goldsmiths, University of London announced on Monday that it would stop selling beef in hopes of combatting climate change. The UK's National Farmers Union said the decision to single out one food product as a response to global warming was "overly simplistic".
A recent study found that if the United States went meatless, it would be the equivalent of taking 60 million cars off the roads.
However, Fitch tipped cold water on that idea. It stated that it was "highly unlikely" that meat-lovers in the US and Brazil would use taxes to banish meat from menus.
Read the original article on Business Insider Australia. Copyright 2019. Follow Business Insider Australia on Twitter.