A coalition of UK health professionals has called for a carbon tax to be imposed on food with a heavy environmental impact, like meat, by 2025, unless the industry takes voluntary action on the impact of their goods.

In its new report, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) says that the climate crisis cannot be solved without action to cut the consumption of food that causes high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, such as meat and dairy products. It adds that more sustainable diets are healthier and would reduce illness. 

The UKHACC includes 10 Royal Colleges of medicine and nursing, the British Medical Association and the Lancet, representing doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including calling for public information campaigns on diet to include climate messages, and putting labels on food to reveal its environmental impact. 

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Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, says that the latter recommendation is especially important. He says, “Today you can walk into a shop and buy something with an environmental impact many times higher than another food, and have no idea you have done so. For example, Brazilian beef uses 200 times more land and causes 80 times more emissions than European tofu.”

More importantly, the coalition says that we need to rethink the food system. Kristin Bash, who leads the Faculty of Public Health’s food group and is a co-author of the UKHACC report, says, “the climate crisis isn’t something we should see as far in the future. It’s time to take these issues seriously now.”

Additionally, the report calls for the UK government to levy a food carbon tax on all food producers if the industry does not take action by 2025 to reduce the environmental impact of its products, such as meat. Nicky Philpott, the director of UKHACC, said taxes on plastic bags and sugary soft drinks show that such policies can reduce harmful activities. 

Already, the NHS has set a target of cutting its net carbon emissions to zero by 2040 and included food in its action plan, saying that “healthier, locally sourced food can improve wellbeing while cutting emissions,” however the UKHACC believes that “the Government must do more to encourage, enable and support these changes.” 

Food production is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and studies have shown that red meat and dairy are more harmful than plant-based food. 

Bash clarifies that the report is not telling people to become vegans. “It’s just saying increase your consumption of plant protein. It’s a simple message and something that’s widely supported by health organisations around the world.”