In response to the recently published UK National Food Strategy, Rothamsted Research economist Dr. Taro Takahashi suggested that reduced meat consumption could bring both health and environmental benefits to the fore.

When asked by Agriland, how such messaging might be received by farmers in Scotland, Wales and the island of Ireland, where grassland agriculture predominates, Rothamsted has issued a follow-up statement.

In the statement, Takahashi focused on work that his team has recently carried out to assess the impact of a possible 'Meat Tax' in the UK.

This has confirmed that such a tax would cost the UK £242 million. Conversely, the savings resulting from reduced climate emissions were calculated in the region of £100 million per annum.

The final report concludes that a tax on red meat to help curb climate change, could do more harm than good.

Reduction in meat consumption

Takahashi commented: “Solely from the climate change perspective, our results unambiguously support everyone else’s finding that a red meat tax can reduce greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions.

But unfortunately, this is only half the story, because the same tax could also force grazing livestock farms out of the industry; even when grassland is actually the most sensible land use at that particular location.

“As well as impacting consumers and farmers, the knock-on effects will be felt right along supply chains, as well as rural communities that support and are supported by farmers," he added.

National Food Strategy

The UK National Food Strategy report called for a 30% reduction in meat consumption, but steered clear of suggesting a meat tax, calling it “politically impossible”.

Takahashi believes that, rather than a blanket tax, a better solution would be to look at which areas of the country are best kept as cattle and sheep farms, and which would be better turned to other uses such as crop production for human consumption, agroforestry, and provision of ecosystem services.

He continued: “This would involve a more nuanced approach of weighing up the carbon savings against the amount of nutrients produced, and the impacts on the economy, both locally and nationally.”

Advocates of a meat tax argue that economic models predict a significant reduction in GHG emissions as a result of taxation.

“However, many of these analyses do not consider wider effects of taxation beyond red meat and dairy markets, and as such the macroeconomic impacts associated with a shrinkage in the livestock industry were mostly unknown before this study,” Takahashi added.

Grassland farming

Prof. Michael Lee, deputy vice-chancellor of Harper Adams University, who co-authored the paper while at Rothamsted, added:

“Our study also shows the vital role responsible consumption of ruminant livestock products can play within a sustainable food system under the UK’s grassland dominated landscape.

Ruminant livestock are the most efficient provider of key nutrients for human health from land not suitable for growing crops."

"The study highlights that even with reduced protein consumption levels, as advocated in the National Food Strategy, ruminants, given our landscape, should continue to supply high-quality protein from grasslands," he added.

"This way, more fertile lands can be freed up for provision of fibre and vitamins through vegetables and fruits.”