Thompson: Processed meat should be taxed higher

Madison Thompson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Our society purposefully puts taxes on things like cigarettes for the sake of our health. Processed meat should be no different.

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According to Beat Cancer’s website, the evidence that processed meat causes cancer is just as strong as the evidence against tobacco. 

It is not completely understood exactly how processed meat increases the risk of cancer, but we do know that certain carcinogenic chemicals are released during the curing or cooking process. These chemicals are similar to those found in tobacco.

It took some convincing, but once we had conclusive evidence that cigarettes cause cancer, we began taking steps to mitigate their consumption. Taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products are now implemented.

Until recently, high consumption of processed meats was closely related to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

In 2015, the World Health Organization issued an epidemiological report stating that processed meats are a causal factor in the development of cancer, specifically colorectal. A meta-analysis of ten different studies found that a 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 percent. 

Currently, about 34,000 deaths are attributed to a diet high in processed meats.

Ideally, we just want to get to a point where healthier foods are offered at a lower price per calorie than unhealthy foods.

There are a lot of potential benefits to taxing processed meat.

Less people in the hospital means less of a strain on health resources. If meat were taxed, it is projected that we could save $20 billion in healthcare costs.

Processed meat is not only a burden to your health, but the environment as well. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of carbon pollution, and rightfully so. It takes a ton of time, management and resources to grow and slaughter almost 70 billion land animals a year.

Roughly one third of grain production is devoted to growing food for animal agriculture.

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As beneficial as it could be for our health, economics is still a barrier we have to cross. The tax on cigarettes was detrimental to low-income people because they are more likely to smoke, so the question of how a meat tax would affect them should be addressed. 

Given that meat makes up a large portion of daily protein intake for the majority of Americans, taxing meat without offering a viable alternative would be unsustainable.

This isn’t to say that all meat production should be stopped immediately. For the foreseeable future, there are always going to be people who need meat in their diet for a reason other than because they like it.

Ideally, we just want to get to a point where healthier foods are offered at a lower price per calorie than unhealthy foods.

If someone wants to smoke cigarettes, we let them because they know the consequences of doing so. The effects of secondhand smoke are more immediate because we know exposure to it can also cause cancer. However, it is widely unknown just how bad processed meat is for our bodies. It’s not about taking away processed meat completely, it’s about making the consequence known. 

This is not about an attack on a particular lifestyle. It is about reconciling new knowledge with appropriate action like we’ve successfully done with tobacco and cigarettes.

Madison Thompson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or onTwitter @heyymadison