A social cost-benefit analysis of meat taxation and a fruit and vegetables subsidy for a healthy and sustainable food consumption in the Netherlands (2020 May)

Broeks MJ, Biesbroek S, Over EAB, van Gils PF, Toxopeus I, Beukers MH, et al. A social cost-benefit analysis of meat taxation and a fruit and vegetables subsidy for a healthy and sustainable food consumption in the Netherlands. BMC Public Health. 2020 May 11;20(1):643. 

Relevant to: 

All Dietitians-Nutritionists, but in particular those interested in policies for shifting dietary patterns.

Question: 

This study uses a social cost-benefit analysis to estimate the impacts of three scenarios – a 15% and 30% tax on meat, and a 10% subsidy on fruit and vegetable consumption – for the year 2048 (30 years hence) in the Netherlands. The researchers also attributed costs and benefits to different stakeholders. 

Bottom line for nutrition practice: 

The authors conclude that any of the three scenarios – a 15% or 30% tax on meat or a 10% subsidy on fruit and vegetables could decrease chronic disease prevalence and healthcare costs, improve mortality rates, improve quality of life, and lead to higher productivity levels for the Dutch society in 2048.  

Environmental benefits of a 15% meat tax are estimated to generate 3400 million euros (the savings associated with an 8.5% reduction in environmental impact, which would otherwise cost the nation) and a 30% meat tax – 6300 million euros (a 16% reduction in environmental impact). The 10% fruit and vegetable subsidy would lead to a 4.6% increase in environmental impact and result in 100 million euro costs to the environment.  

When looking at combined environmental and health benefits to society, however, financial benefits increase even more. A 15% increase in meat tax is estimated to result in a 3100–7400 million euro benefit to society, a 30% increase at 4100–12,300 million euros, and a 10% fruit and vegetable subsidy could result in a benefit of 1800–3300 million euros in the year 2048.   

A social cost-benefit analysis attributes costs and benefits to different society stakeholders. While consumers may benefit financially from the subsidy scenario, governments may lose financially. With tax scenarios, consumers may lose financially while the government gains from tax revenues.  

Abstract:

Background: Implementation of food taxes or subsidies may promote healthier and a more sustainable diet in a society. This study estimates the effects of a tax (15% or 30%) on meat and a subsidy (10%) on fruit and vegetables (F&V) consumption in the Netherlands using a social cost-benefit analysis with a 30-year time horizon. 

Methods: Calculations with the representative Dutch National Food Consumption Survey (2012-2014) served as the reference. Price elasticities were applied to calculate changes in consumption and consumer surplus. Future food consumption and health effects were estimated using the DYNAMO-HIA model and environmental impacts were estimated using Life Cycle Analysis. The time horizon of all calculations is 30 year. All effects were monetarized and discounted to 2018 euros. 

Results: Over 30-years, a 15% or 30% meat tax or 10% F&V subsidy could result in reduced healthcare costs, increased quality of life, and higher productivity levels. Benefits to the environment of a meat tax are an estimated €3400 million or €6300 million in the 15% or 30% scenario respectively, whereas the increased F&V consumption could result in €100 million costs for the environment. While consumers benefit from a subsidy, a consumer surplus of €10,000 million, the tax scenarios demonstrate large experienced costs of respectively €21,000 and €41,000 million. Overall, a 15% or 30% price increase in meat could lead to a net benefit for society between €3100-7400 million or €4100-12,300 million over 30 years respectively. A 10% F&V subsidy could lead to a net benefit to society of €1800-3300 million. Sensitivity analyses did not change the main findings. 

Conclusions: The studied meat taxes and F&V subsidy showed net total welfare benefits for the Dutch society over a 30-year time horizon. 

Details of results: 

In reviewing the literature, the authors note that when citizens are concerned about the environment, it did not necessarily translate to their behaviour, and did not impact their purchase of meat. This, coupled with the evidence of the effectiveness of tax and subsidy interventions on environment, health, and the economy provided the setting for this study. Their use of the social cost-benefit analysis framework combines indicators into a single analysis and monetizes both positive and negative impacts effects on the total welfare of the Dutch population. Indicators assessed include: consumption; health; productivity; environmental impact; consumer surplus; policy revenue; policy costs. The authors suggest that this is the first study that has estimated the combined social effects of taxes on meat or subsidies on fruit and vegetables, as other studies have examined the impacts on consumption, health or environment separately. Values are expressed in 2018 euros. A review of how each one of the indicators is calculated is included in the paper. Overall results are outlined under “bottom line”.  

While average meat consumption was estimated to be 107g/ day in 2048 (based on current levels of consumption), the researchers calculated that a 15% price increase would decrease consumption to 98.3g and a 30% price increase to 90.3g/ day. With the 10% subsidy, average fruit and vegetable consumption was estimated to increase to 261 g per day from an estimated 250g/ day. The meat tax was projected to have the highest impact on the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, potentially avoiding case numbers of 2093-15,449 (15% tax) or 5550–29,398 (30% tax) in the year 2048. The fruit and vegetable subsidy would have most impact on the prevalence of stroke, projected to avoid 1834-3586 in 2048.  

In 2048, the number of QALYs (Quality Adjusted Life Years) projected to be gained is 1119-3525 years (15% meat tax scenario), 2122–6691 years (30% meat tax scenario), and 1629–2483 (10% fruit and vegetable subsidy). QALY is a broad measure of the burden of disease, including both the quality and the quantity of life lived for the population of the Netherlands.  

Environmental impacts measured include: GHG emissions; acidification; freshwater eutrophication; saltwater eutrophication; and land use.  Across all environmental indicators, a reduction of 8.6% would be seen for the 15% meat tax, with a 16% reduction for the 30% meat tax. An increased environmental impact of 4.5% would occur with the increased consumption of fruit and vegetables projected to occur with a 10% subsidy.  

The authors suggest that a combined tax on meat and subsidy on fruit and vegetables might make up for some of the losses felt by low socio-economic groups if a meat only tax was employed. However more research is required to see what foods might be purchased to replace a decrease in meat. 

Finally, while this study is based in the Netherlands, the authors note that it is important to consider the global perspective. If taxes or subsidies occur only in one country, trade/ economic consequences will occur. In addition, foods and feed that are imported from other regions could result in a situation where reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the Netherlands (due to taxes) would result in an increase in emissions in the country where food or feed is exported from. The authors cite other studies which may indicate that taxing all high GHG emission foods may be more effective than targeting only meat. As this is a modelling scenario, numerous strengths and limitations are outlined in the discussion.  

Of additional interest: 

N/A 

Editor’s comment:  

It’s exciting to see research that captures the cost of positive and negative externalities of food consumption across social, environmental and health perspectives.  

Just as the authors note that it is important to consider the global perspective with national taxes and subsidies, if Dietitians-Nutritionists were looking at bringing in higher prices and subsidies at a food service level, the broader retail food environment also needs to be taken into context. Additionally, meat producers are likely to dispute higher prices added to their products. 
Dietitians-Nutritionists also have a role in examining which foods should optimally replace a decrease in meat consumption, to avoid unintended nutritional or environmental consequences. 

Open access link to article: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7212616/ 

Conflict of interest/ Funding:  

No competing interests 

External relevant links:  

N/A 

Corresponding author: 

sander.biesbroek@rivm.nl 

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