Springfords LLP blog

Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

Her Majesty's Burgers and Revenue

11 December 2015

What’s the beef with this one.  Under that old guise of improving the health of the populace, there’s a proposal to take a choice cut out of the nation’s diet, and impose a brand new tax on meat.  We think that could be a real turkey.

It’s not just the health of tax payers that’s at stake, claims the think tank Chatham House, who say that a tax on meat could help with the world’s biggest problem of all - climate change.

Now, it’s just possible you’ll find your Springfords team out in the back office patio on a summer’s evening, firing up the barbecue and cooking up a storm, over a glass or two of fizzy lemonade.  Being environmentally aware, we will of course be using a smokeless fuel, although there are a couple of gourmet burger types who insist on tossing in a handful of hickory wood chips.  Try it, you’ll love the flavour.

However, it probably doesn’t matter much whether we use responsibly sourced charcoal. Most of the emissions burden per sausage has already been incurred, long before the burnt offering gets to our recyclable paper plates.

The overall cost to the planet of producing the meat in the first place is the really damaging factor.  The Royal Institute of International Affairs, to give Chatham House it’s Sunday name, says that fifteen per cent of worldwide greenhouse emissions is the result of livestock farming. 

That may be true.  Far be it from us to argue with the most influential think tank in Europe, but it might be more accurate to say that the whole production chain could account for that percentage of emissions.  From farm to fork, or beast to barbie in this example.

Taking all that into account, the proposal of a tax at the taste bud end of the food chain seems a little superfluous.  Our farming clients; our logistics clients; our food processing and retailing clients will readily concur that the food chain is already taxed at every link.

The British morning newspapers immediately served up the story, no doubt just as we were all tucking into our highly-taxed bacon and eggs. 

Like every aspect of commerce and consumption, there’s a complicated relationship between transactions and taxation.  At Springfords we’re great at making sure that’s a meal that goes down well.  No indigestion here.  The topic of taxing foodstuffs in general, and the multiple taxation down the food chain, is no different to any other business chain.  Opportunities to examine your tax burden, and make sure the authorities don’t take more than their fair share, is something Springfords love to get their teeth into.

Which leads to the question of what benefit Chatham House thinks a meat tax would bring.  Other than another revenue stream for central government, we see limited benefit for the economy, population or the planet.

However, the report claims that reducing meat consumption would, in a quote, be a real win-win for health and the climate.  So the real perceived benefit is that reduced consumption would be driven by effectively making meat more expensive to the consumer.

On the other hand, if more of the total tax take derived from the food industry were devoted to promoting healthy lifestyles - from cleaner barbecue fuels to more moderation in our diet, then maybe we’d achieve the desired effects without jeopardising livelihoods and lifestyles up and down the country.  Whether by taxation or moderation, we could make the necessary changes to benefit everyone.  At least, it’s food for thought.

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springfords blog

Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

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