In the interests of full disclosure, I will state at the outset that I eat far less red meat than I used to. My reasons have less to do with concerns about health than with a metamorphosis over the past decade from a “beef-first” to a “fish-first” eater. I have developed a passion for eating — and cooking — dishes that center on seafood.
That being said, a proposal for taxing meat in the same way we tax cigarettes strikes me as lunacy. According to the website Futurism:
Eating too much meat and smoking both have an impact on the public, from an environmental and health perspective. Meat production degrades the environment by releasing greenhouse gas emissions and using up a disproportionate amount of land and water per unit of protein, while smoking leads to enormous health bills that the public often has to pay for.
In a new report, investment analysts suggest passing on the costs of the meat sector’s impacts to those directly responsible, the same way we tax smokers. The simple idea of the so-called meat tax is that if your burger ends up costing as much as a plate of caviar, you may decide to explore vegetarian options.
The report, written by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) Initiative, presents a five-pronged argument against meat consumption. The authors argue, for example, that raising cattle results in increased greenhouse gas emissions (think cow farts), not to mention a host of lifestyle diseases prevalent in heavy meat-eaters.
Rosie Wardle, head of investor engagements for FAIRR, is quoted in the Futurism article as saying:
We feel that everyone should have the right to a healthy and nutritious diet, and ideally that should help promote a shift towards eating more plant proteins, which is healthier and better for the planet.
But everyone also has a right to choose his own poison, so to speak. True, there are the environmental impacts to consider, but some of those factors are controllable. According to Paul Hsieh, writing in Forbes:
It’s true that many of the “factory farming” techniques of raising meat can wreak havoc with the local environment. And many of those farms are filthy, which means that farmers must feed their animals heavy doses of antibiotics to attempt to keep them healthy, which contributes to the proliferation of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
But consumers don’t have to buy food from such farms. For those concerned about the environmental impacts of meat consumption, they can give their business to farmers who treat their animals humanely, who feed them more natural diets, and who don’t use antibiotics.
Hsieh also notes that the human risk factors are overblown. To this end, he cites an article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that claims that the so-called “paleo” diet (defined as “lean meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts, but excluding added salt…, cereal grains, dairy or legumes”) improves glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes.
Red meat, he writes moreover, is a valuable source of protein, vitamins A and B1, B12, niacin, iron, and zinc.
I don’t know about you, but all this chatter about meat has made me hungry. I’m going to go have a BLT.