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Can Veganuary be a tax winner?

January is a depressing month and it’s not just because the weather tends to be cold and miserable. Weare being constantly bombarded with campaigns to either give up something, such as booze or to change our lifestyle by a variety of means, usually by doing something painful, such working out at the gym.
This January is no different, as the first Creme Egg muscles its way past the last yellow-stickered pack of mince pies on the supermarket shelf, the return to work is made even more uncomfortable by leaving for work in the dark, having first chipped the ice off your car’s windscreen.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of Dry January, not least because we tend to have our office Christmas meal and drinks this month and I want everyone to have a good time, including me. However, I did indulge in one newer January trend last year, Veganuary, and I must admit, I quite enjoyed it, even though I did cheat a bit! I didn’t have to ask if any of our staff were vegans, as you don’t need to ask them, they’ll tell you!
Most of us are well aware by now of the compelling environmental, health and animal welfare arguments for ditching animal products, with many switching to a flexitarian diet, or meat-free Mondays at a push. But taste is king and despite the exponential rise in plant-based offerings in supermarkets, restaurants and fast-food chains, very few have made a full switch to a vegan lifestyle.

Veganuary Excuses: It’s too expensive

One of the biggest barriers for many people interested in attempting a vegan lifestyle is cost. Meat and dairy are often much cheaper than plant-based alternatives, this is largely due to the expense of making vegetable protein look and taste similar to meat, such as vegan sausages. However, it is also true that plant protein can be found in abundance in inexpensive wholefoods such as chickpeas, lentils and bean curd. The cost imbalance has been made significantly worse by the meat and dairy industries enjoying quite hefty government subsidises.
Removing subsidies would undoubtedly help redress the balance and usher consumers in the direction of the vegetable aisle, but what about taxation? Would a tax on meat and meat products, such as burgers be an effective strategy, after all the government did bring in the Sugar Tax in 2018, because they deemed too much sugar was bad for us.
Although a meat tax is yet to be implemented in any European country, a number such as Denmark are giving it serious consideration. The Danish Climate Council have recommended a 33% tax on beef, with the explanation given: “Plant-based foods are the future. If we want to reduce the climate footprint within the agricultural sector, then we all must eat more plant-based foods.” Their logic being the polluter pays for increasing our climate footprint, with animal agriculture being top of the list.

Veganuary Excuses: You are what you eat

From a health perspective, the benefits of putting vegetable products on your plate instead of meat are increasingly hard to ignore. Indeed, a recent Netflix documentary ‘You are what you eat’, compared the effects of a diet containing meat and dairy with a plant-based diet on twins with identical DNA. The results were conclusive, with the twin on a vegan diet being by far the healthier of the two.
It is also worth remembering that last year Cancer Research reclassified red meat as a carcinogen, so does the government have a responsibility to reduce consumption via tax policy, as it does with other things that it’s deemed bad for us, such as cigarettes?
For the majority of meat eaters, even those persuaded that a plant-based diet is better for them, the sticking point is usually around taste. But, with rapid advances in lab-grown meat, suggesting that it could be mass-produced with 5 years, perhaps this could soon be the way forward?

Veganuary Excuses: Other advantages of a plant-based diet

There is no doubt that if we lower our intake of red meat and dairy fats, the growing levels of obesity in society, will start to reverse. Add to this the reduction in ingesting much fewer carcinogens, should see a dramatic fall in the increasing strain on the NHS, with the added benefit, that most of us will live longer.
If you add to this, the growing possibility of a meat tax, which could be done very easily by making meat and some dairy products standard rated for VAT at 20%, rather than the current zero-rating. And if you coupled this with a gradual elimination of subsidies for the animal and dairy industries, then we would have a win-win scenario.

Tax Accountant’s view

There is no doubt that a higher tax take, lower subsidies and a reduction in the strain on the NHS would, put together, enable say income tax to be reduced. This is quite a compelling argument but will either of the major parties have the courage to implement such a change?
I have to admit, that whilst I now eat a lot more vegetable based meals, especially stir-fries, at my age decades of eating meat has probably done its damage, so I won’t be abandoning red meat entirely. But, I accept that some vegan foods are genuinely delicious, my favourite being Mummy Meagz Chuckie Eggs. They’re the vegan alternative to the Cadbury’s offering and are well worth a (guilt-free) try!