Europe

Climate change: German MPs want higher meat tax

German pork, file pic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Higher VAT would most likely reduce German shoppers' meat purchases

Green and Social Democrat (SPD) politicians in Germany say the 7% sales tax (VAT) rate on meat should be raised to 19% to help curb global warming and fund animal welfare improvements.

According to UN research, methane from livestock accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions - more than the direct emissions from transport.

The German proposal, if made law, could reduce meat purchases and the supply of cheaper meats from factory farms.

But the agriculture minister objected.

Minister Julia Klöckner, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat (CDU) party, said she welcomed the discussion on improving animal welfare, but argued that raising VAT was not the way to do it, as a drop in meat sales could hurt farmers' incomes.

The standard VAT rate in Germany is 19%, but most foods, including meat, benefit from the reduced rate of 7%.

The SPD is in government with the CDU, and the German Greens made big gains in the May European elections.

The German debate coincided with a UN report from a panel of scientists calling for a determined switch away from livestock farming. They argue that the West's high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fuelling global warming.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionGases produced by livestock are a major factor in global warming

Besides the harm caused by methane emissions from livestock, there is the widespread destruction of forests to make way for pasture, a process that releases CO2 stored in soil and reduces the absorption of CO2 by trees.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says the livestock sector produces 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, or 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent - more than all the direct emissions from cars, aviation, ships and other transport.

SPD agriculture spokesman Rainer Spiering said "there are discount stores in Germany selling 500 grams of mince for €2.50 (£2.30), and if the VAT rate goes up by 12 percentage points they will charge €2.80 - I think that is acceptable".

EU struggles with VAT

Germany's Die Zeit daily reports that the average German eats about 60kg (132 pounds) of meat annually, but the German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends only half that amount as a healthy level.

In the first half of this year, German abattoirs produced 3.9m tonnes of meat. Slaughtered animals - excluding poultry - totalled 29.4m.

Under EU rules, food generally qualifies for a reduced rate of VAT - as do many other essential goods and services.

But alcohol, fruit juice and some other types of food and drink are taxed at the standard rate. The minimum standard rate is 15%, and the lowest reduced rate is 5%.

In Germany, the reduced rate applies to pet food, but not to baby food. And carrots are reduced-rate, but not carrot juice.

In the UK the VAT rate on food is 0%, which remains legal under EU rules, because it predates the 5% threshold set in 1991.

VAT rates vary widely across the EU, as taxation remains largely a national government responsibility. But the variation makes it harder to crack down on VAT fraud, and the EU has longstanding plans to reform VAT.