A new report commissioned by the Dutch True Animal Protein Price Coalition (TAPP) suggests that retail price of meat does not reflect the environmental costs associated with its production, and calls for a “sustainability charge” on meat.
On 5 February, Greens and socialist lawmakers backed the outcomes of the report at its launch event at the European Parliament, calling for a new meat pricing model to be included in the European Green Deal and the EU’s new food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F).
The price for meat should be raised by €0.47 per 100 grams of beef, €0.36 per 100 grams of pork and €0.17 per 100 grams of chicken in order to reflect the real environmental costs for meat production at the point of sale, the report drafted by the consultancy CE Delft says.
The charge rate should also be applied gradually starting from next year, reaching the full coverage of the external environmental costs, such as CO2 emissions and biodiversity loss, by 2030.
The introduction of a levy on meat to cope with animal welfare and environmental concerns is already being debated in Germany and the Netherlands, while the general issue of increasing meat prices has also been raised in other EU countries.
With its F2F strategy, the new Commission is now putting the focus on the entire food production and one of the key points of any environmental legislation is getting the price right, Green MEP Bas Eickhout told EURACTIV on the sidelines of the event.
“We have a big issue here with right-pricing, but this example of meat just shows you how upside-down the current system is,” he said, adding that not only do consumers not pay the right price but farmers or producers don’t get the right support either.
For Eickhout, the retailers are now dominating the allocation of profits in the meat production system, while producers and consumers are paying the price for it.
Proponents of the “sustainability charge” insist that it should not be referred to as a meat tax, but more as a fair-pricing scheme.
“When addressing the real price of meat in terms of environmental concerns, costs are now borne by society, not by people who buy meat,” said Robert Vergeer, a researcher from the consultancy that drafted the report.
The other aim of the levy is to reduce meat consumption, encouraging a shift towards plant-based diets. If implemented, the meat tax would reduce chicken, pork and beef consumption by 30%, 57% and 67%, respectively, by 2030, the report argues.
“This should not only be about whether to raise prices or not but also steering which consumption we want to support and which one we want less support,” said MEP Eickhout.
Olga Kikou, head of EU office of the NGO Compassion in World Farming, stressed the need to increase plant-based production as a reaction to “a heavily intensified farming sector, which is even more intensified.”
“We need to drop this image of animals in pastures having a good life and, at the end of their lives, somehow they go to the slaughterhouse willingly and become food on our table,” she said.
Socialist MEP Mohammed Chahim considered the levy a “fair shift” that looks at internalising the environmental costs of meat consumption, highlighting that the proposal does not go against farmers though.
“You are our friends, but we should distinguish between farmers that consider the environment and those who just look for profits,” he said.
According to the report, the revenue collected with the meat tax should be redistributed to farmers and consumers through a compensation system that rewards producers who contribute to a sustainable product with high animal welfare standards, but also people with a relatively low income.
However, the proposal has drawn some criticism from the farmers’ side. Daniel Azevedo from farmers association COPA-COGECA took the floor saying that the plan would lead to rural abandonment by farmers in countries like Portugal.
“European farmers are really proud to be committed to the highest standards of food safety, animal health, animal welfare environment,” he told EURACTIV after the event.
He also stressed that, in order to keep and increase these high standards, a farmer needs to get the return from the market, which could ultimately make him invest more.
“And so far, European products known by their sustainability haven’t been able to get that return from the market,” he said, calling for a big discussion on the issue that takes into account all the consequences.
“And I don’t think this discussion we had today tackled all the consequences,” he concluded.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]