Veganuary doesn’t have to be taxingby
Amy Chin considers whether taxation could be used to plant a vegan lifestyle into everyday life beyond Veganuary.
January gets a bad rap. As the first Creme Egg muscles its way past the last yellow-stickered box of mince pies on the supermarket shelf, the return to work is made all the more painful by the dark, chilly mornings, and the tree – once a beacon of eager anticipation and festive sparkle – being reduced to a crispy carpet of brown needles on the floor.
As for accountants, most are so deeply entrenched in busy season, drowning in a sea of tax returns, they barely have time to make new year’s resolutions, let alone stick to them.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Dry January. Not least because it’s my birthday this month and I want everyone to party with me. However, I did indulge in one January trend six years ago and never looked back. Veganuary – going vegan for January. Everyone knows that vegans love talking about veganism. (How do you work out if someone is vegan? You don’t need to, they’ll tell you!) So it would be remiss of me to let the chance of my column falling in Veganuary slide by.
Most people are aware by now of the compelling environmental, health and animal welfare arguments for ditching animal products, with many conceding to a flexitarian diet, or meat-free Mondays at a push. But taste is king and despite the exponential rise in plant-based offerings in supermarkets, restaurants and fast-food chains, very few have made the switch to a vegan lifestyle.
I spoke to Keith Lesser, founder of Vegan Accountants UK, to explore whether the answer could lie in taxation.
Put your money where your mouth is
One of the barriers for many people interested in attempting a vegan lifestyle is cost. Meat and dairy are often cheaper than plant-based alternatives (although plant protein can be found in abundance in dirt-cheap wholefoods such as chickpeas, lentils and broccoli). This is largely because the government heavily subsidises the meat and dairy industries.
“Meat and dairy consumption is going down but government subsidies make the plant vs animal-derived food fight completely unbalanced,” explained Lesser. “If meat and dairy farming wasn’t subsidised, animal products would be too expensive and not mass produced like today.”
So, removing subsidies would undoubtedly help redress the balance and usher consumers in the direction of the vegetable aisle, but what about taxation? Would a meat tax be an effective strategy? I put the question to Lesser.
“Several EU countries – Switzerland, Germany and Denmark to name a few – are tackling this space. The logic being ‘the polluter pays’ and animal agriculture is number one.”
Although a meat tax is yet to be implemented in any European country, it is being given serious consideration by many political parties on the continent. In October 2023, after the Danish Climate Council recommended a 33% tax on beef, Denmark became the first country to publish a national action plan for plant-based foods. Its preface begins: “Plant-based foods are the future. If we want to reduce the climate footprint within the agricultural sector, then we all have to eat more plant-based foods.”
You are what you eat
From a health perspective, the benefits of putting plants on your plate instead of meat are increasingly hard to ignore. A new Netflix documentary You are what you eat: a twin experiment has received rave reviews, comparing the effects of a ‘healthy’ diet containing meat and dairy and a plant-based diet on twins with identical DNA.
The results may be shocking to some, but not to Lesser, who points out “it’s not protein-deficient vegans putting the strain on the NHS”. With Cancer Research classing red meat as a carcinogen, does the government have a responsibility to reduce consumption via policy, as it does with cigarettes?
The answer may lie in the lab
Lesser has an alternative idea, potentially more likely to come to fruition in the UK: lab-grown meat.
“The argument against consuming less meat is usually around taste and pleasure so if that can be replicated via alternatives, or even lab-grown meat, it has to be a win,” he says.
Veganuary is a good opportunity for companies to showcase new and innovative products to rival meat and dairy. “I thought the THIS™ Isn’t skin-on crispy chicken wings in Brewdog was an interesting product and something different,” said Lesser, continuing: “Ultimately my view is that once lab meat becomes mainstream, certainly before 2030, that will be the end for animal agriculture and factory farming.
“Governments will see the pound signs and the sheer amount of land needed for animal production and slaughter is astronomical, not to mention completely unethical. With the decline inevitable and the lobbyists troublesome, I wonder if a meat tax is a waste of time as the fight will be lost via the lab.”
Feasting at FAB
Change is on the horizon and it’s going in the right direction. Attendees at the Accounting Excellence Awards in October 2023 were treated to a menu that was 80% vegetarian and 60% vegan, prepared by sustainability award-winning caterer Jimmy Garcia. Although the event won’t be fully vegan (this year…), those lucky enough to be coming along to FAB24 (get your FREE tickets now!) will be able to enjoy plentiful vegan options from vendors handpicked by Sift’s head of events, and fellow vegan, Mike Goldsmith.
“Catering for events is tough,” said Goldsmith. “There is so much to consider and for me it comes down to keeping as many people as happy as possible. Allergies aside, everyone can eat a vegan meal while not everyone can eat a cheese-based meal and even fewer can eat a meat-based meal. When you’re trying to keep everyone happy and well fed, the ever-widening range of great-tasting options means that vegan food is increasingly the way to go – from a logical point of view, a taste point of view and (whisper it) an ethical point of view.”
Whether or not I’ve succeeded in shoe-horning my plant-powered passions into a taxation context, governmental policy changes would certainly bring us closer to the goal. “Stepping back, humans could just eat plants, save money, avoid heavily processed foods, live an extra 20 years and let the planet heal,” added Lesser.
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Consulting Tax Editor for AccountingWEB.
I have spent the last 10 years teaching the accountants of the future, mainly ICAEW advanced level corporate reporting. I also cover tax news and write and edit tax updates for other publishers including PTP Limited.