Germany: 'Meat tax' on the table to protect the climate
Meat is relatively cheap for consumers in Germany. But that could all be about to change as lawmakers from across the political spectrum back proposals aimed at climate protection and animal welfare.
German politicians from the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens on Wednesday proposed raising the value added tax (VAT) on meat to the standard rate of 19%. Currently, meat is taxed at a reduced rate of 7% like most foodstuffs.
"I am in favor of abolishing the VAT reduction for meat and earmarking it for more animal welfare," said Friedrich Ostendorf, agricultural policy spokesperson for the Greens.
His SPD counterpart Rainer Spieging added that "a meat tax, such as increasing the VAT to 19%, could be a way forward."
The lawmakers proposed using the additional funds raised by the tax increase to support animal welfare in the country at a time when the meat industry is coming under increased scrutiny for how it treats livestock.
Read more: Should there be a 'meat tax' to fight climate change?
Conditions on the table
The agriculture spokesperson from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) was open to the plans. Under one condition:
"Such a tax can be a constructive proposal," said Albert Stegemann. "However, the additional tax revenue should be used to support livestock farmers to help them restructure."
But German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner of the CDU said the proposals highlighted the importance of supporting livestock farmers amid declining meat consumption, but that it wasn't necessary to raise the VAT on meat to do so. She said farmers shouldn't bear the brunt of government efforts.
Green Party leader Robert Habeck said he didn't support the measure because it didn't go far enough. Instead, he backed a full overhaul of the VAT system to tackle environmental concerns.
Read more: Why Germans are demanding a shift in agriculture
With everything from meat contamination scandals to concerns about agriculture's climate change impact in the news these days, more and more people are turning to a vegan diet. But, there are other ways to eat in an environmentally-friendly way too. Free-range meat products are now commonplace. Rarely, though, are cows raised in such a paradise as this alpine meadow.
In the 1970s and 80s, eating vegetarian, and especially vegan — abstaining from animal products completely, like milk and eggs — was not part of the mainstream. Nowadays, things are changing. Jonathan Safran Foer's book "Eating Animals" sparked thought about the meat people eat. More vegan restaurants are sprouting up all over the place; here are some dishes from 'Pêle-Mêle' in Berlin.
Eating vegan can reduce carbon footprints and water usage worldwide. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of human-made greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Scientists also say that 13,000 to 15,000 liters of water are needed to produce just one kilogram of beef.
With the recent scandal surrounding Dutch horsemeat being sold as beef, more Europeans are now simply choosing to eat meat less. But, for those that can't do without, the "Meine kleine Farm" (My little farm) concept tries to achieve transparency with consumers. It aims to give each animal it sells as meat a proper identity.
The Potsdam-based farm has a website showing the living conditions of the animals and giving customers a chance to vote online about which animal they want slaughtered next. Since they mainly sell to customers in the nearby region, the 'Meine kleine Farm' project also helps to keep transportation routes — and thus greenhouse gases — to a minimum.
Eating locally and in season also helps reduce greenhouse gases because it cuts out long transportation routes. Canadians Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon argued for local cuisine in their book, "100-mile diet: A year of local eating." The couple spent one year eating foods from within one hundred miles of their home. Self-preserved foods got them through the winter.
The modern industrial agriculture practice of cultivating monocultures, such as corn and soy, can make the crops more susceptible to pests and diseases. This, in turn, promotes the widespread use of pesticides. Small-scale farmers, on the other hand, often promote crop diversity which makes plants naturally more robust, even in periods of drought.
Cultivating one's own crops is possible even in big cities, as shown by the "Princess Garden" project right in the middle of Germany's capital, Berlin. Crops are grown and consumed locally, with food dishes offered as business lunches at an on-site café. The urban farmers here say gardening raises awareness about the environment and, since the garden is shared, they make friends along the way too.
With Germans throwing away an estimated 20 million tons of food a year, food-sharing has become one of the latest environmentally-friendly trends. Restaurants or grocery stores donate still-edible food that they can no longer use to charity organizations. Foodsharing.de is an internet portal where people can swap food they won't be able to eat.
Many dietary experts argue that a vegetarian or vegan diet can be good for your health too. Various studies show that a decrease in daily meat consumption may reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
Meat consumption has come under increased scrutiny over the past decade, with meatless diets, such as vegetarianism and veganism, gaining traction across the globe.
Scientists have labeled the meat industry one of the highest emitters of CO2, a key contributor to climate change. They have called for bold measures to decrease meat consumption as part of a holistic approach to combating climate change.
Opposition parties, including the Left Party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), have rejected the proposed measures, according to German media.
Read more: From bratwurst to insect burgers: Snack bar culture in Germany
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ls/rt (dpa, epd)