Should there be a tax on red meat?

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A “meat tax” could prevent almost 6,000 deaths per year in the UK and save more than £700m in healthcare costs, according to new research.

The study, by scientists at the University of Oxford, has called on governments to consider imposing price hikes on red meat – such as beef, lamb and pork – to reduce consumption.

But should politicians be telling people what they can and can’t eat?

Why can red meat be harmful?

Various research has linked eating red meat to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

In 2015 the World Health Organization declared processed meats, such as bacon, sausages and ham, as “carcinogenic”, meaning they cause cancer, while it classified unprocessed red meat as “probably carcinogenic”.

Lead researcher Dr Marco Springmann, from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, said high consumption of red meat was not just having an impact on personal health but was also increasing the burden on health services and the economy, which was losing its workforce due to ill health.

There is also a growing awareness of the environmental impact of eating red meat because of the high levels of land and water use and carbon emissions associated with its production.

A recent landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said cutting down how much meat we eat was a key way individuals could help stop rising global temperatures.

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Media captionDr Marco Springmann tells Today eating one portion of red meat a week could help tackle global warming

How could a tax work? And what would it do to prices?

Researchers say a meat tax could reduce consumption of processed meat by about two portions per week in high-income countries.

In the UK, they said the “optimal” tax level to reduce consumption would increase the cost of red meat by 14% and processed meat by 79%.

This would mean the price of a 227g Tesco Sirloin Steak would increase from £3.80 to £4.33.

And for a pack of eight pork sausages from Sainsburys the price would increase from £1.50 to £2.69.

Has there been anything like this before?

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Media captionSugar tax: Drinks becoming pricier and in smaller bottles

Earlier this year the government introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks, meaning manufacturers have to pay a levy on high-sugar drinks.

The tax has already had an effect, with some leading brands reducing the sugar content in their products to avoid the levy.

But whether it means consumers buy less sugary drinks remains to be seen.

What are the arguments against?

Attempts by the government to tell what to do people don’t always go down well.

Christopher Snowdon from the Institute for Economic Affairs said taxing food was “the next battleground for the nanny state”.

Last month climate minister Claire Perry told BBC News it was not the government’s place to tell people they can’t eat steak and chips, despite the environmental impact.

Mr Snowdon also argued it would be “absurd” to raise the cost of living through a meat tax.

And then there is the question of whether it would work.

The cost of a fry up would be more expensive, but would this actually discourage meat-lovers from buying their favourite foods?