Produce ethanol, or grain to feed people? Tax meat!

Produce ethanol, or grain to feed people? A climate tax on meat products solves the problem.

The EU has established a requirement for 5.75% of the transportation sector’s fuel to be bio-fuels by the year 2010. By 2020, the goal is for 10% of all fuel to be bio-fuels. Many well-founded fears have been voiced to the effect that these demands will lead to more land being utilized to grow, for example, sugar cane for ethanol or rape seed, palm oil, wheat, corn or other crops that can be used to produce renewable fuels. What can be certain of is that there is not a great deal of land left in the world suitable for planting. Nor will cultivation methods be made particularly more efficient. What we have to do, quite simply, is to use the arable land we have today in the right way.

An issue that is often forgotten in the debate is that the meat industry, not bio-fuel production, accounts for the larger part of grain and land use. The meat industry uses a full third of the world’s grain; in the EU it’s as much as 70-80%. If we look at the use of surface area, the largest part of the world’s agricultural land is controlled by the livestock industry. By comparison to the meat industry, the part used for production of bio-fuels is microscopic (even though it is growing rapidly).

A key question then is: given the EU’s goals for bio-fuel use, how much more arable land is needed by the years 2010 and 2020? Additionally, from where is this land area to be taken? Kristina Mohlin, a graduate student at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, gives us an excellent and well-supported answer in her newly published thesis, “Taxation of Animal Food in the EU” (PDF file). Her conclusion is that, if we tax meat, meat consumption, and thereby the meat industry’s need for land, will decrease. Her proposal is for a meat tax of approximately 1.70 euro per kilo on beef, less for other kinds of meat.

Mohlin states that the 5.75% goal for use of bio-fuels will lead to the need for 3.7-8.6 million hectares of new agricultural land, depending on what kinds of bio-fuels are produced. The 10% goal will require 6.4-15 million hectares of new cultivation. These are without a doubt large land areas. The total agricultural area in the EU, for example, is 120 million hectares. In Sweden, I believe the total is about 3 million hectares.

But what is interesting about Mohlin’s study is that she only suggests that less land be used for production of fodder for the livestock industry. And this is achieved by taxing animal products. By way of a meat tax of 1.70 euro on beef and less on other kinds of meat, we can free up 7.3 million hectares of arable land. In this way, we could reach the goal of a 5.75% bio-fuels share. To reach the 10% goal, the meat tax would need to be somewhat higher.

We should also point out that a not insignificant portion of future bio-fuels could be produced from by-products of the cellulose industry, and in this way the need for additional land area could be reduced even further. Increased emphasis should also be placed on trains and public transportation to reduce the total share of traffic. This would reduce the total energy use, which is really the most important demand to make.
Now, in fact, there is a solution. This is how we can avoid a conflict between food production and bio-fuels production: Make meat more expensive! Not only would we get a better environment, millions of animals would avoid slaughter. And we would feel better ourselves, as a result of lowered meat consumption.

Has the study been read by our Environment Minister, Andreas Carlgren, or by our Agriculture Minister, Eskil Erlandsson? If not, it’s high time.

P.S. Frightening Facts
(in CO2 equivalents):

1kg of beef =    24 kg of CO2
1kg of beef from the dairy industry = 15Kg of CO2
1kg of pork =    5.5kg of CO2
1kg of eggs =   5.5kg of CO2
1kg of chicken = 4.6kg of CO2
1kg of milk =    1.2kg of CO2