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A global tax on meat and milk would reduce greenhouse emissions: Research

A new report has called for taxes to be added to food prices in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent obesity-related deaths by cutting consumption.

The team of researchers from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food in the U.K. and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington modelled what effects tax hikes on meat and dairy products would have on consumption, gas emissions and health.

The report based the amount of tax charged on how much greenhouse gas emissions each food group was responsible for through its farming and transportation around the world. Therefore meat including beef, lamb and pork would incur higher taxes than rice and other crops.

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The report found that a 40 percent tax on beef would reduce consumption by 15 percent and cut global greenhouse gas emissions by around 600 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, while a 20 percent tax on milk cut consumption by around 7 percent and reduced emissions by around 200 million tons.

Under a scenario where greenhouse gas taxes where applied to all food groups, the report claimed there would be around 107,000 avoided deaths globally by 2020 due to reduced red meat consumption and fewer deaths related to obesity and being overweight.

The number of reduced deaths increased in alternative situations: for instance, using the tax revenue generated to subsidize fruit and vegetable prices saw health benefits multiple 492,000 avoided deaths.

"Levying greenhouse gas taxes on food commodities could… be a health-promoting climate-change-mitigation policy in high-income, middle-income and most low-income countries," Marco Springmann, the study leader from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, said in the report.

But while the health and emission benefits of the tax seem significant, governments would struggle to enact this sort of policy.

"Despite its positive effects on both diet and greenhouse gas emissions, the government would struggle to win support from consumers for a tax on meat and dairy, particularly at a time when inflationary pressures caused by the sharp drop in sterling are increasing," Sarah Boumphrey, Global Lead of Economies and Consumers at Euromonitor, told CNBC via email.

"Having said that, the agricultural sector is going to come increasingly under the spotlight as an important contributor to global emissions, one which has thus far avoided much of the attention that other sectors – such as transport – have been exposed to," she added.

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