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The impact on health of a GHG tax on food and drink

Countries are increasingly exploring the potential of using taxation to change population eating habits and improve health; examples include the recently withdrawn tax on saturated fat in Denmark, a tax on a variety of unhealthy foods in Hungary and a tax on sweetened drinks in France.

This paper, lead authored by Adam Briggs and involving a number of Oxford researchers (including FCRN's Tara Garnett) examines the impacts that a UK tax on food related GHG  emissions might have on chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The research examines the hypothesis that since some of the biggest emitters in the food sector are associated with health problems, most notably red and processed meats, a tax on food related emissions might generate health as well as environmental benefits. The study models two scenarios: in Scenario A taxes food groups with GHG emissions greater than average while scenario B taxes high-GHG emission food groups but also subsidises those with low emissions to create a revenue-neutral scenario.

The results of the study show that emission reductions are achieved under both scenarios.  However, while scenario A delivers both health and environmental benefits (as well as taxation revenue), Scenario B (the revenue neutral one) leads to a slight increase in premature mortality.  This is because a subsidy on low GHG foods will lower the cost of sugar based products which in turn can lead to negative health impacts.


Objectives: To model the impact on chronic disease of a tax on UK food and drink that internalises the wider costs to society of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to estimate the potential revenue.

Design: An econometric and comparative risk assessment modelling study.

Setting: The UK.

Participants: The UK adult population.

Interventions: Two tax scenarios are modelled: (A) a tax of £2.72/tonne carbon dioxide equivalents (tCO2e)/100 g product applied to all food and drink groups with above average GHG emissions. (B) As with scenario (A) but food groups with emissions below average are subsidised to create a tax neutral scenario.

Outcome measures Primary outcomes are change in UK population mortality from chronic diseases following the implementation of each taxation strategy, the change in the UK GHG emissions and the predicted revenue. Secondary outcomes are the changes to the micronutrient composition of the UK diet.

Results Scenario (A) results in 7770 (95% credible intervals 7150 to 8390) deaths averted and a reduction in GHG emissions of 18 683 (14 665to 22 889) ktCO2e/year. Estimated annual revenue is £2.02 (£1.98 to £2.06) billion. Scenario (B) results in 2685 (1966 to 3402) extra deaths and a reduction in GHG emissions of 15 228 (11 245to 19 492) ktCO2e/year.

Conclusions: Incorporating the societal cost of GHG into the price of foods could save 7770 lives in the UK each year, reduce food-related GHG emissions and generate substantial tax revenue. The revenue neutral scenario (B) demonstrates that sustainability and health goals are not always aligned. Future work should focus on investigating the health impact by population subgroup and on designing fiscal strategies to promote both sustainable and healthy diets.


Briggs A D M, Kehlbacher A, Tiffin R,Garnett T, Rayner M, Scarborough P, 2013.  Assessing the impact on chronic disease of incorporating the societal cost of greenhouse gases into the price of food: an econometric and comparative risk assessment modelling study, BMJ Open.

The Oxford Martin program on the future of food has written more about this paper on their website, here.

To read the full paper (available open access) see here.

In the FCRN research library you can find more studies and reports on food taxation policy and its relation to GHG emissions and health.

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