A "Sin Tax" on Meat Would Improve Our Health and Environment

Americans have to pay an excise, or "sin," tax on cigarettes, alcohol, and gasoline. Why shouldn't we also have to pay more to purchase foods that cause animal suffering and pollute the planet?
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Tax Day is around the corner. While there is ample controversy over various elements of the tax code (and over taxes in general), one new tax that would make tremendous sense is an excise tax on meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Americans have to pay an excise, or "sin," tax on cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline, and luxury vehicles in order to help offset the health and environmental costs of these items. Why shouldn't we also have to pay more to purchase foods that cause animal suffering, pollute the planet, and send our health care costs skyrocketing?

Meat, eggs, and dairy products are the only dietary sources of cholesterol, and they also contain excessive amounts of saturated fat and calories -- and no fiber or complex carbohydrates. According to The New York Times, Americans eat twice as much meat as the average person worldwide -- and the U.S. spends more money on health care than any other nation.

The American Dietetic Association reports that vegans are less likely to suffer from many common conditions, including cancer, ischemic heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Yet, vegans must help pick up the tab when meat-eaters get sick, through higher health insurance premiums and through emergency care for those without health insurance. And just like the tobacco tax, a tax on meat and other animal-derived products will ultimately benefit meat-eaters the most, since it will give people yet another incentive to choose wholesome vegan foods.

The Environment
Funneling crops through animals, rather than using that land to grow human food, is both vastly wasteful and one of the world's top sources of pollution. The Food and Agricultural Organization at the U.N. tells us that more than 756 million metric tons of corn and wheat were fed to farmed animals in 2007, and that number is growing; that's in addition to the fact that almost all of the more than 200 million metric tons of soy grown in the same year was also fed to farmed animals. For comparison, in the same year, one-tenth the resources were diverted to biofuels.

The inefficiency and pollution of the meat industry almost defies comprehension. But in 2006, the United Nations broke it down for us, in a fascinating 408-page report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." The report found that raising animals for food is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." Specifically, the report tied the meat industry to "problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity."

Last year, the United Nations released another report that corroborates its 2006 report. It found that a global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary if we are to curb climate change, reduce pollution, stop forest destruction, alleviate world hunger, and conserve resources. Summing up the situation, the report states that "animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives."

If Congress levied a 15-cent tax on every pound of chicken, turkey, pig, fish, and cow flesh sold in grocery stores and restaurants, as well as a modest tax on each dairy item and carton of eggs, a typical American family of four would pay a few dollars more a month -- and much less if the family members opted to eat more vegan foods. This is a purely optional tax that would have the triple-benefit of helping the environment, animals, and human health.

Video discussion of an EPA-considered tax on meat (based on meat's contribution to global warming):

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