Every German eats about 60 kilos of meat on average per year. Too much, my climate protectors. Because the CO2 emissions of meat production increase the greenhouse effect. Healthy meat consumption is also not high: the German Society for Nutrition recommends eating only half as much meat, 31 kilograms per year. Animal rights activists criticize the conditions under which animals are kept in order to produce as much cheap meat as possible. Against this background, a meat tax is now being discussed. But how would this work? And how useful would it be?

Which models are in discussion?

The German Animal Welfare Association is campaigning for a meat tax. This refers to a tax on all animal products, for example per kilo of meat, liters of milk or egg carton. "In the end, the term does not matter, you can also call it 'Consumers'," says Thomas Schröder, President of the German Animal Welfare Association. The additional money raised could be used for more animal welfare in the housing, such as the development of the stables and more space for the animals.

At least since 2016, the Federal Environment Agency has been calling for the normal value-added tax rate of 19 percent to be paid for animal products instead of the reduced rate of seven percent. The price increase for consumers should be cushioned by a reduction in VAT on fruit and vegetables.

A meat tax or levy could be better targeted at promoting farmers, but VAT revenues are not tied to a specific purpose.

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What are the political reactions?

The CDU agricultural politician Albert Stegemann told the world , he was basically open to a meat tax, provided that it is used to assist pet owners in the conversion. SPD and Greens agricultural politicians were in favor of increasing VAT. However, the Parliamentary Managing Director of the SPD faction, Carsten Schneider, made it clear: "The SPD parliamentary group does not discuss an increase in VAT on meat products." Representatives of the Left, FDP and AfD rejected both variants with different arguments. The left finds a VAT increase unsocial, since it meets the poorest most. The FDP fears a displacement of German products from the market and the AfD says that the money will probably not flow back to the farmers.

The Federal Government reacted cautiously to the thrust. The Federal Environment Ministry pointed to "more effective means" against intensive animal husbandry, such as stricter fertilizer regulations or EU agricultural funding. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture called the competence network Livestock Farming, in the framework of which it will discuss appropriate funds for the conversion of animal husbandry.

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How much money would an increased VAT on animal products bring?

In 2016, the Federal Environment Agency estimated that the state would lose € 5.2 billion due to the currently low VAT on animal products. This has been calculated by the Scientific Advisory Council on Agricultural Policy at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture - but based on data from the year 2008. It is not clear how the numbers look today.

A prediction is also difficult, as eating habits change even without tax increases. For example, meat production in Germany fell by 2.6 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period of the previous year. In addition, higher taxes could lead to consumers buying less meat and lower tax revenues.

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Would that also meet organic meat?

Farmers who already rely on animal welfare, reject the end of the tax concession. "Since organic meat is already more expensive than conventional meat anyway, an increase in the VAT rate would increase the price of organic meat disproportionately," says Gerald Wehde, spokesman for the Bioland Association for Organic Farming. He considers the model of meat tax per kilo of meat to be more useful.

Legislators could also agree in principle to a reduced tax rate for organic products, said Wehde. Green boss Robert Habeck expressed similar. If you want to change something, you have to convert the entire VAT system "to environmental impact, coherence and social impact," said Habeck.

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How much more expensive is the meat in the supermarket?

Animal welfare association president Thomas Schröder spoke at the meat tax of a few cents per kilo of meat, milk or eggs and appealed to calculations of the Scientific Advisory Council for Agricultural Policy at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, according to which per household should incur 60 euros per year.

An example: 250 grams of minced meat is currently available at a supermarket chain for 1.11 euros on offer. Here would be the increased VAT rate of 12 cents to book. Not enough, in order to really develop a steering effect, finds for example the federation for environment and nature protection. Nevertheless, a not inconsiderable sum could come together (see above), which could help with the restructuring of agriculture.

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What other ways are there to provide more animal welfare?

Of course, Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner of the CDU could also bring new regulations on the way, which would promote a species-appropriate animal husbandry. That demands about the left.

The German Animal Welfare Association called Klöckner to submit a livestock strategy for the coming decades. If the legal standards in livestock husbandry are raised, animals would have to get more space, the livestock would decline in the long term and environmental protection and meat quality rise, said Gerald Wehde of organic farming association Bioland. The Interest Group of pig farmers in Germany (ISN) called for an overall concept for animal husbandry. The Federal Chancellery should initiate a dialogue with the aim of a "contract with society," said the ISN chairman Heinrich Dierkes.

On the other hand, the CDU politician and the German Farmers' Association tend to rely on the free choice of consumers. Klöckner plans to introduce an animal welfare label that will educate consumers on what standards are being met when producing the product. You can then decide for yourself what you want to have animal protection cost. The project is still controversial between the government partners: The SPD, but also parts of the Union want the labeling is mandatory, Klöckner is also on this issue on a voluntary basis.

Another possibility would be to bind agricultural subsidies in future to compliance with certain standards. However, this would have to be regulated primarily at EU level.

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Is meat meat tax unsocial?

Any increase in VAT on necessary consumer goods always hits those people who have the least money most. Unlike income tax, the same amount applies to everyone, regardless of how much they earn.

However, given the small price increases resulting from an increase in VAT, the burden should be limited. Low-income people also spend proportionately less on meat than good-earners. In addition, other measures that force farmers to provide more animal welfare would make meat production more expensive, possibly raising prices.

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Will German products be forced out of the market?

Between 2007 and 2017, meat exports rose by 44 percent. About half of the meat slaughtered in Germany was exported in 2017, according to the Thünen Institute, a research institute of the Ministry of Agriculture. This part of German meat production would not be affected by an increase in VAT - so if the export share continues to increase, this instrument would not help to reduce the amount of meat produced in the long term.

Imported meat, on the other hand, is subject to an import turnover tax. These products would be as heavily burdened by VAT as meat produced domestically, argues the Federal Environment Agency. A competitive disadvantage is therefore not the increase in VAT.

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How important is the reduction of meat consumption for climate protection?

Agriculture as a whole accounts for only 7.3 percent of German greenhouse gas emissions. Lesser meat consumption alone is not enough to solve the problem. In contrast, 84.5 percent of the emissions produced by burning energy. However, the consumption of imported meat or the import of animal feed also contributes to the greenhouse effect - albeit in other countries.

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