5 Responses to Video Series: Factory Farms are Breeding Grounds for Pandemics

  • Alberto Giubilini says:

    Thanks for this. The more I hear these points around the risks and harms of factory farming from different angles – antibiotic resistance, animal welfare, environmental impact, and now risks of zoonotic diseases – the more a tax on meat consumption seems to me the most obvious solution to reduce meat consumption, internalize the costs and minimize the risks (e.g. reinvesting revenue in measures that minimize the risks in all those 4 categories), and ensure that the transition is fair by having those who cause the problem by consuming cheap meat from factory farming take responsibility for it. The problem is that, as Prof Gross says, it is really not palatable from a political point of view.
    But people might be happier to pay a tax and, in many cases, to therefore reduce meat consumption than to become vegan.

    • Sarah says:

      In terms of the environment, it could be the expensive, organic meat is the worse offender.
      Constantly taxing things the government doesn’t want you to do affects the poor most and the rich least. It’s intended as a way of controlling people’s behaviour- why not just own it and introduce rationing of these things? People could then sell their ration if they wished and the poor would be better off instead of worse off.
      For things like factory farming or antibiotic use, you can just regulate it.
      Taxing seems like the least fair option, and only provides an illusion that it is less restrictive of freedoms. It would be better to be open that you are restricting freedoms, and then apply it fairly to everyone, and to the minimum extent that you need it.

      • Alberto Giubilini says:

        But I don’t see how your argument would not apply to all other sorts of Pigouvian taxes, e.g on alcohol and tobacco. Either one is against these taxes tout court, or one accepts some level of unfairness. The tax would need to be such that the less wealthy can afford a minimum of the good if they want, but it’s a tradeoff of different values and we might need to sacrifice some fairness. Also, the same objection would apply to many other policies, e.g. speed or parking tickets, which some can afford and some can’t. So again, either you are against these measures, too, or one needs to accept some unfairness. Meat is definitely too cheap to be sustainable in many respects.

        • Sarah says:

          Well, I don’t necessarily support those, However, I think there are some differences.

          Alcohol and tobacco taxes are to encourage you to make choices for your individual health: we want each person to consume less, therefore if it affects poorer people unequally, in theory at least it then be all the more beneficial to those people- they will reap the health benefits to a greater extent. A meat tax would be to encourage you as an individual to make choices for collective health. But it puts that onus more on some individuals than others. But they will only reap the same amount of benefits as everyone else.

          A speeding fine is different: no-one should be speeding at all, and it is a punishment for doing so.

          A parking ticket is possibly similar, but then you have to own a car so arguably you are already above a certain wealth threshold, and should pay directly for the public good rather than all of the public paying and then giving it out equally .

          • Alberto Giubilini says:

            I am not too sure Pigouvian taxes on alcohol and tobacco are paternalistic in the way you suggest. The point is to internalize the costs that drinking and smoking place on public health systems and society. Discouraging use, when such taxes actually have that effect (but I don’t know to what extent they do), might be a welcome side effect.
            In any case, even if it doesn’t matter much what is the intention and what is a welcome side effect, one might say that a diet based on cheap meat is not healthy either. It might not be as harmful as smoking or heavily drinking, but it is not healthy either. Reducing meat consumption is probably a health benefit to poor people, assuming alternatives are available at reasonable prices.

            Speeding and parking tickets are punitive, not meant to internalize costs, that is true – but I mentioned them to suggest that the kind of unfairness you point out is something we normally accept (the rich would often park where it is prohibited because they can afford the ticket).

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