We need a luxury tax…on designer/lifestyle foods

Most consumers are vaguely aware that in North America we enjoy the cheapest most abundant food supply in the world.

Most consumers are vaguely aware that in North America we enjoy the cheapest most abundant food supply in the world. One hopes that we appreciate this good fortune and support measures that would see this situation continue for ourselves but also for the less fortunate. A lot of folks in the world spend much of their income on food, eke out a living on subsistence farming, or slowly just starve. Certainly those wretched masses would do what they could to make their food less expensive and more plentiful. This causes one to ponder why there are food marketers that are trying to do the opposite to our food supply in the supposedly advanced western world.

Most consumers have seen promotion and marketing schemes making claims that their products don’t contain hormones, antibiotics, are cage-free, grain-fed, grass-fed etc. etc. ad nauseum.  All of that is starting to happen in livestock and poultry production with beef being a prominent target. Beef production is the best example, particularly in light of those products sold by retailers as being free of hormones, ionosphores, antibiotics and steroids. What none of the claimants dare say is that there are ramifications from the production practices or lack thereof in producing their special retail products.  The perverse consequence of this approach has been to increase emissions and waste valuable food production resources. Here is a direct quote from a BRC research document:

“What would happen if the Canadian beef industry stopped using growth promotants?

Feedlot production costs would be 8% higher if producers chose not to or were unable to use implants, ionosphores or beta-agonists. To produce the same amount of Canadian beef without the use of growth promotants would require 12% more cattle, 10% more land, 11% more feed, and 4% more water. It would also require 7% more fuel and fertilizer. The reduced feed efficiency and more days to finish would also mean that the cattle would produce 10% more manure (with 10% more nitrogen and 11% more phosphorus), and 10% more and greenhouse gasses in the process.”

Apologists for anti-promotant retailers state that most of their beef doesn’t come from feedlots. But that is the point – their beef, no matter where it comes from, is much more detrimental to the environment than other beef because it uses up much more resources and produces more greenhouse gases. It’s simply a case of production efficiency favouring feedlot finished cattle. Be that as it may – offshore manufacturing grade beef from grass cattle and cull cows is still cheaper than beef produced in feedlots. That’s the real reason retailers buy it, not because it was raised without growth promotants – that’s just an advertising propaganda bonus.  The other side, however, is that offshore beef imports produce much more emissions than Canadian feedlot beef.

Perhaps consideration needs to be given to applying a carbon and emission levy (environmental tax) on food products that exceed an established base level – some might call it a luxury tax – which is not unknown in our society. This would be fair in a world where in many places just plain ordinary food is scarce. The point is that designer lifestyle foods (and flowers) cost a lot to produce and cause more emissions than regular commercial food production – consumers of those products should have to pay a penalty for the use of those extra resources and production of additional pollutants. One could extrapolate that the production of those luxury foods and flowers takes away land and resources from the production of regular food that could be fed to the starving masses of the world. Luxury food taxes collected could be used to support the development of self-sustaining crop and livestock production practices in food-aid countries.

There has to be accountability by those that promote, exploit and benefit from the marketing of luxury foods. They need to take responsibility for the extra cost in land and resources and the extra pollutants that such foods require and produce. Telling gullible consumers that foods are better because they are organic, free-from and other dubious claims without telling them there is an extra environmental cost is dishonest. I expect exposing that cost and applying a luxury tax will test the resolve of many consumers in their misguided belief that designer food is better. Better yet, let’s put a mandatory label on those foods using a point system as to whether it is above or below a certain environmental standard. I expect some retailers (hello A&W) would fight that bit of honesty but it can be done.