David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

Major report warns that a "meat tax" is coming

After tobacco, carbon, and sugar, meat may be next on the list to be taxed by governments in their efforts to comply with health and environmental policies. 

An unidentified worker monitors a meat grinding machine as it grinds beef at Ray's Wholesale Meats in Yakima, Washington. U.S. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After tobacco, carbon, and sugar, meat may be next on the list to be taxed by governments in their efforts to comply with health and environmental policies. Тhis is what a recent report published by the FAIRR initiative argues. 

Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) is an initiative that informs and advises investors about the risks and opportunities related to the industrial livestock production sector. FAIRR’s most recent report The Livestock Levy, which was published in December, forewarns investors that meat may be due for a tax in the next five to ten years, just like sugar and tobacco.

Taxing goods that are considered unhealthy or dangerous for the environment is an attractive revenue stream for governments. In recent years, meat has entered the list of goods that may be harmful to society.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, has classified processed meat as a Group1 carcinogen, the same group as tobacco and asbestos. Red meat was classified as Group2A: “probably carcinogenic to humans.” 

As a result, many countries have started modifying their official food recommendation guidelines switching their focus from meat and dairy to plants. Belgium’s 2017 food pyramid shows processed meat in the junk food category—alongside candy, sugar and fries—as foods that “are not necessary for a balanced diet and can even damage your health.”

Belgium's food pyramid. The top says 'Drink mostly water'. The green circle says 'more' and the yellow circle says 'less'. The red section says 'as little as possible' and is for foods that are "not necessary for a balanced diet and can even damage your health."

The Chinese Dietary Guideline, which was last updated in 2016, recommends that Chinese people reduce their consumption of meat to 1.4-2.6 oz a day. If the recommendation is followed, it would reduce the meat consumption per person from 139 lbs to 31-60 lbs per year.

But while there is still room for a scientific debate regarding the health risks of consuming meat, there is none left when it comes to the harm that industrial livestock production causes to the environment. 

The FAIRR report points out that meat consumption has risen 500% between 1992 and 2016, and the upward trend is likely to continue. This would put an even further strain on the global livestock industry, which is already implicated in producing more greenhouse gas emissions than the transport sector, increasing levels of antibiotic resistance, soil degradation, deforestation and being a threat to global food security and water availability. 

FAIRR estimates that the health and environmental costs for the global economy caused by meat production could result in as much as $1.6 trillion by 2050.

Jeremy Coller, the founder of FAIRR and the chief investment officer at the private equity firm Coller Capital says: 

“If policymakers are to cover the true cost of human epidemics like obesity, diabetes and cancer, and livestock epidemics like avian flu, while also tackling the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance, then a shift from subsidisation to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable. Far-sighted investors should plan ahead for this day.”

Indeed, policymakers in countries like Denmark, Sweden and Germany have already put taxing meat on their agendas, even though no concrete legislation plans have been put in place. However, it is exactly in the Nordic countries that the first carbon tax was introduced in 1990.

So, the question remains whether or not taxing meat will be an effective enough measure.

Today more than 180 countries tax tobacco, more than 60 jurisdictions tax carbon emissions, and at least 25 tax sugar.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, the special tax on sugary drinks that was imposed in 2014 has resulted in lowering per capita consumption of those beverages by 6% in 2014, 8% in 2015 and 11% in the first half of 2016.

According to a study by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, taxes of 40% on beef, 20% on dairy products and 8.5% on chicken would save half a million lives a year and reduce climate warming emissions. 

The World Health Organization considers taxing tobacco, for example, as a win-win policy for governments that “creates the fiscal space to finance development programmes while, at the same time, reduces tobacco use.”

There are more ripple effects to taxation that could prove beneficial. For example, steering investor money away from the meat production industry to companies that produce more sustainable forms of protein like Beyond Meat can lead to accelerated innovations.

Bloomberg reports that FAIRR’s sustainable protein engagement plan, currently supported by 57 investors with $2.3 trillion under management, plans to ask 16 major food multinationals this year to “future proof” their supply chains by diversifying their protein sources.

Maria Lettini, director of FAIRR, concludes: 

“On the current pathway we may well see some form of meat tax emerge within five to 10 years. There are huge opportunities in the market. If we can start replacing meat protein with plant-based protein that has the same look, taste and feel as meat, where real red-blooded meat eaters are happy to dig into a burger that is plant-based, we are changing the world.”

Here, epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant explains the dangerous trend of developing nations' increasing taste and growing budget for meat consumption, and the impact it has on disease epidemics.



Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Keep reading Show less

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Keep reading Show less

Unhappy at work? How to find meaning and maintain your mental health

Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.

Scroll down to load more…