Should there be GST on meat?

Talk around GST and whether it should be raised has been resurfacing as of late, now that parliament is ready to sit again next week. But there’s another suggestion about where tax could be added: meat.

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According to Talia Raphaely, a sustainability policy lecturer at Curtin University and Dora Marinova, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, it’s something the government has overlooked thus far, but it makes sense.

They said, in an article on The Conversation, food has a special tax-exempt status in several countries around the world, including Australia but regardless of the level of tax charged on food, taxation systems universally fail to distinguish between different types of food (except sometimes in the case of infant foods). Simply put, taxes are blind to the differences between meat and other foods like fruit and vegetables.

They pose the debate that if we accept that taxes should also encourage or discourage certain behaviours, then we should question why meat is taxed (or exempted) at the same rate as fruit and veg.

The fact of the matter is that meat production and consumption impose environmental and health burdens on society. In essence, meat is impacting on us, so why shouldn’t it be taxed?

Raphaely and Marinova say that because tax revenue is used (among other things) to support public health care and to fund government-backed environmental initiatives, meat should be taxed accordingly.

Their research indicates that putting a 10 per cent or 15 per cent GST on meat would generate between A$3 billion and A$4 billion in extra income – so is it right?

We’re eating less fruit and vegetables than we need to, but double the red meat, so taxing meat could help nudge Australians in the healthier direction.

With that said, fruit and vegetables should then not be taxed, particularly if those tax revenues are destined for the public health sector, as eating vegetables already reduces healthcare costs.

The lecturers said that meat is 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 – and meat tax could perhaps be one option on the table for this year’s Paris climate negotiations”, they said.