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Meat tax would save millions of lives, cut health care costs by billions, study says

Researchers say that a tax on meat would save millions of people and cut health care costs by billions each year.
Researchers say that a tax on meat would save millions of people and cut health care costs by billions each year. Associated Press

Scientists are coming after our precious bacon.

A team of researchers led by Oxford population health scientist Marco Springmann have published a study that says there’s a relatively simple way to save 220,000 lives per year, and to cut about $41 billion in global annual health care costs.

According to Springmann and his team, we need to eat a whole lot less meat to accomplish it, but we can’t, as a country, be trusted to employ the self-discipline necessary to mix in a salad every once in a while. So they did the math.

If authorities imposed a meat tax, for public health reasons, of 34 percent on unprocessed meats — meats that have not been smoked, cured, salted or preserved with chemicals like nitrates — and a whopping 163 percent on processed meats — like bacon, sausage, pastrami or hotdogs — enough people would shy away from meat to prevent 220,000 people from dying each year.

That means that if these researchers are right, and if this tax went into effect today, then five years from now, more than a million deaths would have been prevented.

The World Health Organization has labeled processed meats as carcinogenic — or, known to cause cancer — and red meats as “probably carcinogenic,” according to the study.

“Consuming red and processed meat not only affects your health but also the economy at large,” Springmann told CNN, noting that “the least intrusive form of regulation is a tax to raise prices and reduce consumption.”

The numbers suggest that U.K. health and policy officials could pull their share of the burden by imposing a 14 percent meat tax on unprocessed meats and a 79 percent tax on processed meats.

“The tax is higher in the US due to an inefficient health system that wastes a lot of money,” Springmann told CNN.

The study was published in the online open-access journal Public Library of Science.

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