Britain’s climate advisers have put forward proposals for the Government to cap the cost of vegan food after ministers refused to introduce a meat tax.
A report published by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advocates “financial incentives” such as “reducing the price of plant-based foods” to help cut the amount of meat consumed in the UK. It cites an example in the US where shoppers who were offered a 30 per cent refund on fruit and vegetables bought more of the produce.
The document, finalised days ago, also states that targeting shoppers’ “guilt” could help reduce their “desire to consume meat” and suggests that food labelling and new restrictions on the advertising of red meat and dairy products would create “an environment in which low-carbon diet choices are made easier”.
It came as Conservative MPs accused the CCC of misleading the public by claiming that it had never suggested the introduction of a new tax on meat.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 after Rishi Sunak ruled out such a levy and attributed the idea to the CCC, Chris Stark, the body’s chief executive, said the tax was a “straw man”, adding: “I hadn’t suggested a tax on meat.”
But George Eustice, the former environment secretary, said: “The Climate Change Committee repeatedly agitated for government to intervene to cut meat consumption by 35 per cent even though the science behind their stance was flawed.”
The idea of a meat tax was repeatedly rejected by Mr Eustice and Michael Gove before the Prime Minister’s pronouncement last week.
‘Carbon version of the sugar levy’
A report published by the CCC in 2020 said that taxes could be used “to ensure that the price of food reflects the climate impact of production”.
The Government’s opposition to taxes on meat and dairy items has left environmental campaigners seeking other ways in which the Government can intervene to dramatically reduce the amount of meat consumed by people in Britain.
However, the latest report also resurrects the idea of a tax on meat and dairy, stating in its “policy recommendations” section that it is “very important” to “make plant-based foods attractive, accessible and affordable”.
It adds: “Introducing a carbon version of the sugar levy might also lead to a switch to more sustainable diets by way of producers reformulating recipes or production processes to reduce emissions.”
The report, drawn up by the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations for the CCC and published on Sept 11, states that “policymakers need to ensure that plant-based and lower-emission foods are cheaper and more easily accessible”.
A CCC summary of the proposals lists “reducing high-carbon foods in people’s diets (e.g. meat and dairy)” as the first of eight “key areas” in the report.
It states: “Providing information about a food’s impact on one’s health, the environment, or animal welfare is not an effective way to change diets in isolation. Information-based interventions work best in combination with other approaches, such as making plant-based foods more available, convenient, attractive, and affordable.
“Policymakers may achieve this by making plant-based options more visible and the default in supermarkets and restaurants, alongside introducing financial incentives (e.g. reducing the price of plant-based foods).”
The recommendations were drawn up following a workshop involving CCC officials. The CCC said it commissioned the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations “to review the role of behavioural science, defined as the study of how humans think and behave, in designing effective climate policies”.
The report states: “Using incentives (e.g. price reduction) to promote diet change and fruit and vegetable intake have been shown to be effective... For example, a 30 per cent financial incentive on fruit and vegetables was effective in increasing fruit and vegetable purchases among consumers.
“Similarly, a health-focused study compared vegetable intake between a consumer group who received financial incentives for healthy food with a control group who did not receive an incentive and found that those with the incentive significantly increased their vegetable intake.”
Expanding on the idea of influencing people’s diets with information about a food’s impact on “health, the environment, or animal welfare”, the report states: “As with other behavioural areas, tailoring dietary interventions to people’s values, attitudes and emotions is important.
“For example, the desire to consume meat can be reduced by targeting positive or negative emotions (e.g. pleasure, guilt, sadness), or by emphasising the co-benefits of diet change (e.g. improved health, animal welfare).”