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Could a combined carbon and sugar tax benefit the environment and our health?

February 5, 2016

Researchers from Oxford University have claimed that a carbon tax on food combined with a sugar tax on soft drinks… could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide health benefits and raise a not insignificant £3.6bn in revenue.

Researchers from Oxford University and University of Reading simulated four different tax scenarios, which would allow them to investigate their environmental, health and economic effects in the UK. The first scenario involved a carbon tax of £2.86 per tonne of CO2 on all foods that produced emissions higher than the average for all food groups. The second was also modelled on a carbon tax of £2.86 per tonne of CO2 on all high emission foods, but also included subsidies for foods below the average. Both scenarios were then tested with a 20% tax on all sugary drinks.

In terms of the environmental benefits, all scenarios predicted a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of 16.5 – 18.9 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The scenarios that did not include subsidies for low emission food generated revenues of £3bn and £3.4bn – the higher figure resulting from the additional sugary drink tax.

All scenarios also predicted variations in purchasing trends for meats and delayed or averted deaths mostly from heart disease and cancer, attributed to increased fibre intake and altered fat consumption.

The scenarios which included subsidies on foods with lower than average CO2 emissions anticipated increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption, with a corresponding increase in delayed or averted deaths and a decrease in the purchase of cream, cheese and eggs.

Adam Briggs, lead researcher from the University of Oxford, said: “Our study demonstrates that a food carbon tax could have meaningful effects on greenhouse gas emissions without harming health. A well designed carbon tax could be an important addition to policies aimed at reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions.”

To read the full research article in BMC Public Health, please visit: http://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-2723-8