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A Controversial Approach to a More Sustainable Food System

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Could taxes be the answer to a more healthy and sustainable food system?

It’s no secret that our food system is currently unsustainable. Agricultural runoff is poisoning our oceans and ecosystems, while farmland is becoming toxic and stripped of nutrients. And our planet’s population continues to increase…

So what is the solution? There are likely a number of approaches that can help us develop a more sustainable model of food production, but this one shows promise, and it starts at the consumer level.

If there’s one word everyone hates, it’s “taxes.” But one study has proposed that taxation could be a useful strategy for creating a more sustainable food system.

By utilizing strategic taxation (and tax cuts) for certain foods, we could improve health and reduce environmental impact by making unhealthy and carbon-intensive foods more expensive, and healthy, low-impact foods more affordable.

A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change explored the feasibility and impacts of this method. Here are a few of their findings:

The authors of the paper used an environmental-economic analysis of greenhouse gas taxation of food products, embedding it within a health modeling framework. They use this analysis to assess the impact of potential changes on major world regions, including countries at all stages of economic development. The result is the first global analysis of the environmental and health impacts of a greenhouse gas tax on foods.

The authors used a life-cycle analysis to quantify the emissions related to food production. To figure out how much environmental tax should be assigned to foods, they used an assumed emissions price of $52 per metric ton of CO2, a cost calculated to correspond to the present value of future climate damages associated with each additional ton of carbon dioxide or equivalent. They also used a global comparative risk assessment framework that accounted for five major diseases (coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and other disease risks) as well as the effect of weight (overweight/normal/underweight).

The authors found that a tax on all food commodities would result in 146,000 deaths avoided globally in the year 2020, two-thirds of which would be due to changes in dietary risk. In this model, the authors found that maintaining broad tax coverage—meaning many countries adopt the tax—would maximize the health benefits, particularly in terms of reductions in overweight and obese populations. Additionally, this broad taxation approach was most beneficial in terms of raising the tax revenues—these taxes could then be used to subsidize vegetables and fruits, furthering the consumption of healthier, less environmentally problematic foods…

The authors did raise concerns about potential negative impacts of the tax, such as reductions in food availability and security. They included these potential negative impacts in their model and found that if tax plans were tailored for each region, the negative impacts could be alleviated, and the global health impact would still be extremely positive.

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Check out the full article at www.arstechnica.co.uk to learn more…

 

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