Could Germany impose a tax on meat?

If the VAT rate on meat were raised, this would mean an additional revenue of €5.2 billion for the state, according to the Federal Environment Agency's 2016 calculations. [Natalia Lisovskaya/ Shutterstock]

Shortly before Germany launches its “green week”, Lower Saxony’s conservative agriculture minister, Barbara Otte-Kinast (CDU), again raised the issue of introducing a meat tax, which is something animal welfare activists have been demanding for years. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The debate on meat production has picked up speed, one week before tens of thousands of people are set to protest once again on Germany’s roads, demanding more environment-friendly and animal-friendly agriculture as part of the traditional “We’ve had enough” demonstration.

The topic dominated German politics already last summer, driven by the Greens at the time.

But this week it was the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that put the matter back on the agenda. Lower Saxony’s Agriculture Minister Barbara Otte-Kinast demanded in an interview on Monday (6 January) the introduction of a special tax on meat to generate more income for animal welfare.

“At the cash register, we know that it will not be paid voluntarily. We don’t need to bet on that”, Otte-Kinast told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. “We probably need a special tax,” she added.

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In the summer, agriculture politicians of CDU, SPD and the Greens had spoken out in favour of a higher value-added tax on meat. MP Albert Stegemann (CDU) said a tax increase for meat could be a “constructive proposal” at the EU level.

However, this additional revenue would have to be used as an animal welfare premium to support livestock farmers in Germany in converting to more animal-friendly stables.

No EU member state has introduced a meat tax 

In Germany, meat is currently only subject to the reduced tax rate of 7% instead of 19%. The agriculture ministry estimates that Germans spend around €23.4 billion a year on meat and that each German eats an average of around 60 kilos a year.

If the VAT rate on meat were raised, this would mean an additional revenue of €5.2 billion for the state, according to the Federal Environment Agency’s 2016 calculations.

In the EU, it is up to each member state to set its VAT rates. No EU country currently imposes a meat tax, although Sweden and Denmark have been debating the issue for years.

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But there are also arguments against raising VAT. For one thing, critics argue that a price increase of a few cents would hardly have a steering effect in reducing meat consumption.

Secondly, the revenues could not be earmarked for animal husbandry, as they would be included in the general federal budget in accordance with the principle of “total coverage”, as the finance ministry said.

And the German Farmers’ Association stressed that “neither animal welfare nor climate protection is served if German farmers continue to invest in higher animal welfare standards and the market is supplied with lower animal welfare standards from other EU countries at low prices”.

Otte-Kinast also agreed. She spoke out against an increase in value-added tax on Monday and showed support for a separate levy instead. “But the money must go to the farmer,” she added.

“The price alone is not meaningful enough”

The underlying debate is, therefore, whether higher meat prices should primarily restrict meat consumption or be used for better animal husbandry.

For her part, Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) has repeatedly referred to the state animal welfare label, which she brought to the cabinet’s attention in September as part of the agricultural package.

“The money does not have to come automatically from tax increases, but can be achieved by setting priorities,” said Klöckner. She said it was important that quality standards were maintained in animal husbandry, which could not be seen from a higher price alone: “The price alone is not meaningful enough,” she said.

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For animal welfare activists, however, the planned animal welfare label does not go far enough, especially since it is being introduced on a voluntary basis. Several EU countries are now using animal welfare labels, but there is no generally binding one except for chicken eggs.

For 2020, Germany’s agriculture ministry has announced a strategy for the future of livestock farming, the results of which are to be presented in February.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Natasha Foote]

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