They’re Coming for Your Steaks and Hamburgers

The Lancet used to be a respected medical journal. Now, while it still publishes technical articles on medical topics, it is more concerned with the left-wing hobby horses of the day. Pseudo-science can be influential, so the Lancet’s current editorial–We Need to Talk About Meat–should be taken seriously as an early warning.

The emotionally charged debate over the ethical suitability of meat consumption may never reach a conclusion, but it is only comparatively recently that the climate impact of livestock rearing, and the nutritional and health issues caused by meat have become a pressing concern.

Achieving a healthy diet from a sustainable source is a struggle new enough to countries with an abundance of food that it has proven difficult to enact meaningful change. Government efforts to curb consumption and thus curb weight gain in high-income countries are yet to display a meaningful effect, and most of these efforts are focused on sugar or fat.

We now know that much of what governments have been telling us about diet for decades has proved to be wrong, but that is immaterial to the left. If the real goal is to boss the rest of us around, it makes no difference whether the purported science is correct or not.

Meat production doesn’t just affect the ecosystem by production of gases…

I take it this refers to cow flatulence.

…and studies now question the system of production’s direct effect on global freshwater use, change in land use, and ocean acidification. A recent paper in Science claims that even the lowest-impact meat causes “much more” environmental impact than the least sustainable forms of plant and vegetable production.

Human life impacts the environment. Whether this is an issue or not depends on whether a particular activity is one that the left wants to suppress.

Another important addition to the conversation around meat is the PLoS One paper discussing health-related taxes for red meat. The paper offers up some compelling claims as justification, including the suggestion that the health-related costs directly attributable to the consumption of red and processed meat will be US$285 billion in 2020, or 0·3% of worldwide gross GDP. 4·4% of all deaths worldwide would be caused by red or processed meat.

This is total BS. A model of this sort will produce whatever results its creator directs it to produce.

Of course, this causal mathematical model should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it does follow on from the 2015 WHO classification of some meats as proven carcinogens, based on the International Agency For Research On Cancer assessment of a “strong” link between red meat and the mechanistic evidence for carcinogenicity.

In other words, the link is pure speculation. Around half of all substances on Earth, both natural and man-made, are carcinogenic. You can look it up, but I believe the principal food carcinogens ingested by modern people are beer, wine, peanuts and mushrooms. A lot of liberals like to drink, or beer and wine would be in the same category as red meat, only more so.

The question of what can be done is more challenging than the question of what should be done. Countries, and their citizens, should look to limit their consumption of intensively farmed meats, both for health and environmental reasons. The issue of how this change comes about is part of a wider conversation that we all need to start having about meat.

The left often says it wants to start conversations, but note that here, as always, the result of the conversation is pre-ordained. The left’s idea of a conversation is what the rest of us might call hectoring.

Will a simple tax on red and processed meat change habits to the extent required? A simple measure enacted alone runs the risk of unfairly targeting those whose budgets only stretched to the cheaper processed meats. Stating that those who can suddenly not afford meat should just switch to a vegetarian diet anyway is not a balanced addition to the debate over meat’s role in society.

I guess if they raise the tax high enough, we will all become vegetarians. That would be more “fair,” presumably.

However, targeted taxation has shown positive results in areas of strong health concern such as tobacco, although these successes are similarly accompanied by discussions of the regressive nature of such a tax.

So meat should be treated like tobacco? On average, about half the cost of a pack of cigarettes goes to taxes. A similar “targeted taxation” of meat would double the price of all red and processed meats. It is worth noting that the reduction we have seen in cigarette smoking is due not only to high tax rates, but to the fact that people believe that smoking damages one’s health and can shorten one’s life. Hardly anyone believes that about meat.

The likelihood is that action will need to take a wider systems approach, with a very public conversation about meat informing a host of measures from deciding the appropriate application of government farming subsidies and finding a way to ameliorate the true costs to humans and the planet of certain processing methods, all the way through to slowly changing consumer habits over time, possibly through use of targeted taxation but certainly through an engaging, balanced conversation.

So get ready for a war on meat, the most visible feature of which will be a one-way government “conversation.”

So what is a healthy amount of red or processed meat? It’s looking increasingly like the answer, for both the planet and the individual, is very little. Saying this is one thing. Getting the world to a place where we have the ability to balance the desire to eat whatever we want with our need to preserve the ecosystem we rely on to sustain ourselves is quite another. The conversation has to start soon.

Sure it does! The clock is ticking, just like with global warming. We must act before it is too late–ban the cow!


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