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Swedes Debate Meat Tax Proposal

Western meat consumption must decrease, says Swedish Board of Agriculture

By Madeleine Almberg
Epoch Times Staff
Created: February 7, 2013 Last Updated: February 9, 2013
Related articles: World » Europe
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A stock photo of a cattle farm in Vasteras, Sweden on March 3, 2006. As meat consumption rises in Sweden, along with associated carbon emissions, officials debate the best way to keep meat production environmentally sustainable. (Fredrik Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images)

A stock photo of a cattle farm in Vasteras, Sweden on March 3, 2006. As meat consumption rises in Sweden, along with associated carbon emissions, officials debate the best way to keep meat production environmentally sustainable. (Fredrik Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images)

STOCKHOLM—Meat consumption in Sweden has risen 50 percent in the past 20 years, making it one of the leading meat consumers in Europe—but concern for the environmental impact of meat production is also prevalent in the nation.

When the Swedish Board of Agriculture (SBA) recommended a meat tax last month, a great debate ensued in the Swedish media. The SBA has since said that the tax would have to be implemented across at least several European nations to have a significant impact.

It maintains that public policy and consumer habits must change to decrease meat consumption and promote sustainable meat production—not just in Sweden, but globally.

Asia and Africa are the only regions in the world that do not require a decrease in meat consumption, according to a report released by Sweden’s Lund University last year.

“In agriculture, it is not just about carbon, but also methane and nitrous oxide,” says Ragni Andersson of the SBA. European levels of emissions associated with meat production are already comparatively low—30–40 percent lower than in Brazil, for example—but still far beyond what the world’s ecosystems can handle.

The planet can sustain emissions of up to 2.20 tons of greenhouse gases per person annually. According to the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Sweden’s emissions average 11.02 tons per person. Food production alone produces 2.20 tons per person.

The proposed meat tax would differentiate between meat produced in high-emission facilities and meat produced in low-emission facilities.

Though a carbon tax on meat would have to be implemented at least on the European Union level to be effective, according the SBA, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) maintains it is a good idea in Sweden.

“Consumers have a responsibility based on the knowledge they have to make decisions in everyday life, to reduce their own consumption of meat. But, a great responsibility also rests on the policy to design instruments that drive development in the right direction,” says Johanna Sandahl, SSNC spokeswoman for agricultural issues.

SSNC says a carbon tax on meat is a step in the right direction, but it is important that the tax be supplemented by other means to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture in general.

Those who are critical of the proposed tax believe it could inadvertently contribute to deteriorating animal welfare. The most industrialized conditions for keeping livestock are also often most conducive to low emissions.

Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg told Scandinavia Today, “I think you should be careful about how to use the tax system. We have a carbon tax and it works well. We’ll do a reconciliation of climate policy after 2015 and we have already said that we are prepared to take away some of the exceptions contained in the carbon dioxide tax. … To then have a special arrangement [for the] meat area, I do not think is good.”

At the same time the SBA published its report, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences published a guide on how to choose meat for reduced environmental impact. Both the SBA and the university recommend Swedish meat.

About half the meat consumed in Sweden is imported. Transport contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and production in Sweden creates lower emissions itself than some other countries around the world.

North Trade, a company that imports meat, is critical of the meat guide.

“As the issue of meat and the environment is extremely complex, we do not believe that it is possible to even make a foreseeable meat guide,” says Calle Ramvall, quality and environmental manager at North Trade. “Our main argument is that you cannot focus on country or continent when giving advice.”

Andersson says SBA will continue to try educating all involved in the industry.

“To raise the level of expertise of many different stakeholders, including consumers, is fundamental,” says Andersson. “What we want to say with the report is that we in the Western world need to reduce our meat consumption.”

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