Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Why would any government make policies that make its people poorer and unhealthier? I can only put this down to a complete ignorance of real economics due to which policies have the worst effect on the economy and on health.

Let me briefly give you the reasons why you should not eat meat.

All living beings require food and water. In order to grow food for animals we need vast amount of land, which we don’t have. So, we allow them to graze in the forests and this destroys the forest, which in turn impacts the climate and reduces ground water. We give them water that we don’t have. We grow animal food instead of growing food for humans. To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilos of grain to feed the animal and roughly 15,000 litres of water. Pigs and goats are almost the same, and chicken a little less. Their emissions : faeces, urine and methane, degrade the land and water and cause the climate to become hotter. Methane causes 24 times more damage than carbon dioxide and each cow emits 600 litres of methane daily. Livestock farming contributes 18% greenhouses gas emissions worldwide. This is more than the emissions from all forms of transport put together. When the climate becomes hotter we need to do far more coal mining to create more energy to cool humans down during heat waves. The water levels rise and flood lands. The rest of the lands suffer drought as glaciers melt and dry up. Mosquitoes and other pests increase and so do their diseases. We feed grain to animals grown for meat, and so the prices go up and there is no grain left for the poor.  If all this grain were fed to humans directly we could feed 3.5 billion people more daily – and keep them healthier.

Because the industrial growing of animals does not recognize their bodies as live, they are simply seen as meat machines and deliberately grown to be fatter, larger, softer... whatever. This can only be done by using antibiotics, hormones and chemicals. In both, India and America, 80% of all antibiotics are fed to animals and so the human eating them in his/her meat becomes immune to them. Thousands of people die every day because there is no medicine left to cure them when they become sick. Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all related to animal eating, and you and I are paying taxes for more and more hospitals. Switching to a plant based diet could save lives, lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion.

Therefore, if our nutritional needs can now be met by consuming foods that are less harmful, then we ought to choose these foods. Giving up meat is one of the easiest things we can do to live better.

But this is not going to happen unless the government takes a policy decision on whether it wants the country to survive or not. Encouraging meat export is the quickest way of destroying our land, water and air. The excuse is feeble that meat exports earn money – what is the point if that money is spent on restoring water sources and forests or paying farmers compensation for the destruction of their crops ? Or for trying to undo the effects of climate change ? This makes no sense to me at all.

This is where GST, the Goods and Services Tax, comes in.

This tax should be made far more sensitive and sophisticated in its social agenda as well as its economic one. And that means adding GST to meat.

The government has decreed no GST  on live animals grown for food : bovines, swine, sheep, goats, poultry, geese, ducks, turkeys and guinea fowls. The government has given exemption to all meat of bovine animals, swine, sheep, goats, poultry fresh or chilled . For some reason it has also exempted the meat of horses, donkeys, mules – even though these animals are forbidden to be killed for meat by the FSSAI. Does the Finance Department even know the food laws? All offal (which means the parts like anuses, intestines and hooves) and  fats of pig and poultry are exempt (so now they can put them happily into vegetarian Dalda). All fish, prawn, shrimp, crustaceans and molluscs and every other aquatic invertebrate, live or dead, are exempt. Considering that a large number of them are banned for any catching/eating under the Wildlife Protection Act, this seems equally bizarre. The prawn/shrimp growing industry is probably the  most polluting industry, and the worst for health, because it uses tonnes, literally tonnes, of antibiotics which wash into the agricultural fields making those lands dangerous for all grains/vegetable eaters. Bones, horns, nails, beaks, hooves and anything made of them, are exempt. They have even added antlers – which can only come from deer that are protected from killing by other laws. Eggs are exempt. Milk  and all its products, of course, would be exempt as it is a holy cow in itself.

Some countries give food a special tax exempt status. Many states in America exclude groceries from sales tax, and there is no VAT on foodstuffs in UK, Ireland and Malta, though other European countries, add VAT to food. Australia has no GST on all food. However, regardless of the level of tax charged on food, taxation systems fail to distinguish between different types of food. Simply put, taxes are blind to the differences between meat and other foods like fruit and vegetables. Food which is good for the country and the human is taxed just as much as food that destroys the planet and the individual.

Taxes, and all revenue collection should encourage or discourage certain behaviour. Do we not put huge taxes on cigarettes and alcohol or luxury cars ? Then why should meat get treated on par with fruit and vegetables when it costs the country so much more in terms of pollution, water, land, health?

Meat production and consumption impose extremely high environmental and health burdens on society. Tax revenue is used (among other things) to support public health care and to fund government-backed environmental initiatives. So, given that meat compromises both public health and the environment, it surely follows that it should be taxed accordingly.

It makes no sense to me that the Indian government would exempt all forms of meat from all GST. Meat is not a necessity. It is a luxury – and it falls in the same category as cigarettes. The slaughterhouses are run by multi millionaires who are sending most of the meat abroad and most of the owners are NRIs. If the government were to put GST on meat at the rate of even 10% the potential revenues would run into crores. At a time when internationally calls are increasing for taxing meat on environmental and health grounds, why would India go the other way ?

Taxing meat would help nudge Indians in a healthier direction. A reduction in meat consumption, encouraged through taxation, will have both environmental and public health benefits. More revenue would remain with the government, since health care costs would come down.

Meat, should be a prime candidate for taxation because of its negative impacts. By not taxing meat production and consumption appropriately, governments are in fact subsidising environmental and public health destruction. Meat tax should be on the table for all climate negotiations. This tax can be used for supporting agricultural innovation and victims of climate related problems.

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