By Jose Nino on the Mises Wire
Plant-based diets, especially vegan diets, seem to be all the rage these days.
Based on the practice of eschewing animal products, veganism has attracted a broad coalition of interest groups — ranging from animal rights to environmental activists — who believe that veganism is the most ethical and sustainable way of promoting human health and animal welfare.
At first, these appear to be reasonable premises for an alternative lifestyle that challenges the dietary status quo.
But when placed under the microscope, the modern vegan movement has shown signs of increased politicization and a tendency to mesh with socialist causes.
Veganism as a Vessel for Interventionism
Recent developments have demonstrated that veganism is making headway not only in the cultural realm, but also in the political sphere.
It is no secret that many elites at international organizations have an aversion toward meat. In fact, institutions like the United Nations have called for the reduction of meat consumption on the grounds of environmental sustainability and health concerns.
And like any good globalist institution, they believe in using government force, in this case, taxation, to curb meat consumption.
But bureaucrats and their vegan foot soldiers are not alone. Groups like the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR), an investment initiative network that monitors factory farms, has thrown its hat into the ring by pushing for meat taxation. This group is no roughshod, grassroots operation; it’s backed by investors that preside over roughly $4 trillion in assets.
The recent meat tax discussions show a paradigm shift in the issue where politicians, bureaucrats, nutritionists, and even powerful financial interests are actively flirting with the idea of using state power to discourage meat consumption.
It’s only a matter of time before governments around the world start implementing meat taxes, adding to the ever-growing list of taxes that citizens must endure.
But is meat taxation a viable way to reduce consumption?
The Problems with Sin Taxes
Sin taxes are nothing new in history. Busybody politicians have targeted all sorts of activities — alcohol consumption and smoking — that they deem to be destructive and try to use the heavy-hand of the state to curtail these so-called vices.
In the majority of the aforementioned cases, sin taxes failed to reduce consumption of said activities. And in the few instances that sin taxes did succeed in curbing consumption, the problems of prohibition and black markets would come into the equation.
Mark Thornton accurately depicts the results of prohibitive taxation or outright bans of certain goods or substances:
The scourge of crystal meth is another example of the “potency effect” or what has been called the “iron law of prohibition.” When government enacts a prohibition, increases enforcement, or increases penalties on a good such as alcohol or drugs, it inevitably results in substitution to more adulterated, more potent, and more dangerous drugs.
The major takeaway from Thornton’s analysis is that when the government puts the clamps on goods and services, it creates incentives for black market actors to offer more dangerous, lower quality alternatives.
If the anti-meat crowd had their way, proposed meat taxes would have a similar effect, as shady suppliers will look to profit off lower-quality meat products that turn out to be harmful for consumers.
As these alternatives start to bring about negative effects, politicians will naturally respond with even more intervention. Unless cooler heads prevail, more destructive interventions and unintended consequences will follow.
Moreover, just as meat providers are being driven by consumer demand toward more organic, cage-free and “certified humane” meats, additional government interventions will only work in the opposite direction, placing these products out of reach of more consumers.
It’s about Control
Health arguments aside, the real issue at hand in these discussions is control. Taking a page from their environmentalist ilk, vegans constantly rely on alarmist tactics to advance their cause. And this agenda consists of more than just educational campaigns — it involves using a strong centralized state to carry out their dietary vision.
To achieve this zealous plant-based vision, these actors will ultimately have to control and regulate the means of production of meat. The US government already wields tremendous power over food through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). These agencies, with pressure from anti-meat activists, can be used as vehicles to implement one-size-fits-all policies.
Central planning of this sort forms the bedrock of socialism and the latest anti-meat crusades represent another ambit that socialists will exploit in order to gain more traction. At its core, political veganism is the same fundamental philosophy but with different cosmetic features.
It Boils down to Freedom
Individuals should be free to choose whatever diet they desire. The best diet is the one an individual can consistently stick to long enough to achieve their body composition and health goals.
Unfortunately, veganism has taken a page out of the global warming playbook by lending itself as a vehicle for increased state centralization and control over the private affairs of peaceful citizens. The recent meat tax propositions serve as a firm reminder of why there must be a complete separation of Food and State.
Just like the state should stay out of our wallets, the state should stay out of our grocery stores and kitchens.