No push in D.C. yet for UN-supported meat tax
February 7, 2014
The push for an additional tax on meat — supported by United Nations scientists, to encourage people to eat less of it — doesn't appear to be picking up any steam in Washington, D.C., according to agriculture policy experts.
That brings relief to ag organizations, as well as ranchers.
In December, the U.N. scientists' analysis – published in the journal, "Nature Climate Change" – took the contentious step of suggesting methane emissions be cut by pushing up the price of meat through a tax or emissions trading scheme. Before releasing that report, several high-profile figures, from the chief of the U.N.'s climate science panel to the economist Lord Stern, had already advocated eating less meat to reduce the production of global-warming gases from cattle, sheep and other livestock.
Now, two months later, representatives in the ag industry say they don't see any urgency in the U.S. to put a tax in place, and stressed that such a tax wouldn't solve anything.
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said there's more work to be done in addressing emissions from agriculture, but producers are already putting in place more environmentally friendly practices, like intensified, rotational grazing and reduced-tillage farming, along with a number of other large- and small-scale efforts. Industry experts stress that, in general, the beef industry is producing about 30 percent more beef, with 30 percent less resources than they were 30 years ago.
In addition to using more resource-efficient production methods, Hansen and others in the ag industry stress that grazing livestock has helped shape and manage the countryside for hundreds of years, and livestock, through their grazing, bring significant environmental benefits that can mitigate the negative effect of emissions.
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"Having ag producers be a part of the conversation and the solution … and finding ways to get more resource-efficient practices in place is the way to go," Hansen said. "To simply tax meat more and make prices higher so consumers buy less doesn't do anything. Taking away business doesn't help our nation's meat producers invest in the more efficient practices that are needed … and certainly doesn't help them in feeding a growing population."
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. — was more blunt.
"I would rather put a tax on the meatheads that came up with such a stupid idea," he said in an emailed response this week.
Many producers believe that better practices alone should be used in addressing the issue, but statements in the U.N. report stress belief in that methane from livestock must also be addressed through the demand for meat.
"The issue is cyclical," Hansen said of the proposal to tax meat more to reduce consumer demand and address emissions. "We're not seeing lawmakers pushing hard for this right now, but that doesn't mean it won't happen down the road." F