The Danish Council on Ethics is calling on the Danish government to regulate the consumption of what it calls ‘climate damaging foods’ by placing taxes on those products with the highest associated emissions.
The Council specifically focuses on beef: while recognising that all the production of foods have an impact on the climate, it argues that beef falls into “a category of high climate impact that is very far from the other food categories, [which is why] a tax on this type of meat would be the right place to start.”
The report, entitled The Ethical Consumer: Climate Damaging Foods, sets out the Council’s reasoning for their position. While beginning at the premise that an individual consumer has an ethical obligation to consider the climate through their eating habits, it goes on to say that:
‘The individual consumer has no possibility of curbing climate change by changing the way he or she eats. It is not the specific piece of meat that the consumer is buying that causes the damage; Its impact is microscopic and only has damaging impact together with all the other consumers' contributions. If a person is not confident that other consumers will take responsibility to buy climate-friendly products, it would not be rational for him or her to do it. But given the problems that certain foods are described to cause, everyone has an obligation to contribute to the implementation of effective, collective measures to make overall food consumption less damaging to the climate.’
The Council notes that although climate change mitigation requires supranational action, action by an individual nation can provide a best practice example. Envisaging a food tax and subsidy system which accurately prices the externalities of food production, it believes that a beef tax could be a good first step.