Fri, Aug-09-19, 08:53
Green tax on sausages a step too far for Germans
Germany has raised the prospect of imposing a hefty tax on meat to encourage carnivores to cut down on their consumption.
This week MPs from the ruling parties flirted with abolishing meat’s special status in the tax system and nearly trebling the levy on each product to 19 per cent.
While the idea was swiftly shelved after an outcry from the opposition and an icy response from the farming minister, it has stirred up a debate about whether sausages and mince are too cheap.
Alongside staples such as bread, milk and coffee, Germany levies only a 7 per cent VAT rate on meat products, while charging 19 per cent VAT on baby food, restaurant meals and mineral water.
Earlier this week MPs floated the idea of moving meat into the more expensive category, in effect indicating that it is more of a luxury than an indispensable foodstuff. This would raise the price of a standard packet of bratwurst by 29 cents, to €2.88.
Friedrich Ostendorff, the agriculture spokesman for the Green party in the German parliament, said it was “impossible to explain” to consumers why they should pay 7 per cent VAT on burgers but 19 per cent on oat milk.
With support from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and her Social Democrat coalition partners, Mr Ostendorff, 66, called for the extra money raised to be spent on animal welfare subsidies.
While politicians on both the left and right denounced the idea as an ill-conceived assault on ordinary Germans’ living standards, it is broadly in line with a shift in the national diet.
n spite of the country’s reputation for heroic levels of pork consumption, Germans are eating ever less meat. One recent survey found that only 28 per cent would admit to eating it every day, down from 34 per cent in 2017.
Yet prices remain so low that many farmers feel forced to keep their livestock in crowded or otherwise unpalatable conditions, according to Thomas Schröder, president of the German Animal Welfare Society.
Rather than a tweak to the VAT system, Mr Schröder favours a separate “meat levy” of a few cents on every kilogram, with the money ring-fenced by law to cover the estimated €3 billion to €5 billion cost of upgrading livestock farms to an acceptable standard.
“Meat and other animal products are too cheap, and mostly sold at bargain-basement prices: it is not possible to rear animals humanely, because the price pressure compels farmers to squeeze ever more animals into ever smaller spaces,” he told The Times.
The meat tax was abandoned yesterday as the leaders of the mainstream parties fretted that it could become politically toxic and difficult to administer in Germany’s highly devolved federal structure.
Julia Klöckner, Mrs Merkel’s farming minister, said the answer was instead for consumers to voluntarily pay more money for better-quality meat.
“People are prepared to pay several hundred euros for a mobile phone, but only 15 cents for 100g of chicken,” Ms Klöckner, 46, told Deutschlandfunk Kultur, a radio station. “I think that’s an obscene state of affairs. We have to ask ourselves: how are we going to get more animal welfare?”