Simulating the Impact on Health of Internalising the Cost of Carbon in Food Prices Combined with a Tax on Sugarsweetened Beverages

BMC Public Health (2016 V16 p107; DOI 10.1186/s12889-016-2723-8) / by Adam D.M.Briggs, et al.

Rising greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) have implications for health and up to 30 % of emissions globally are thought to arise from agriculture. Synergies exist between diets low in GHGEs and health however some foods have the opposite relationship, such as sugar production being a relatively low source of GHGEs. In order to address this and to further characterise a healthy sustainable diet, we model the effect on UK non-communicable disease mortality and GHGEs of internalising the social cost of carbon into the price of food alongside a 20 % tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs).

Developing previously published work, we simulate four tax scenarios: (A) a GHGEs tax of £2.86/tonne of CO2 equivalents (tCO2e)/100 g product on all products with emissions greater than the mean across all food groups (0.36 kgCO2e/100 g); (B) scenario A but with subsidies on foods with emissions lower than 0.36 kgCO2e/100 g such that the effect is revenue neutral; (C) scenario A but with a 20 % sales tax on SSBs; (D) scenario B but with a 20 % sales tax on SSBs. An almost ideal demand system is used to estimate price elasticities and a comparative risk assessment model is used to estimate changes to non-communicable disease mortality.

We estimate that scenario A would lead to 300 deaths delayed or averted, 18,900 ktCO2e fewer GHGEs, and £3.0 billion tax revenue; scenario B, 90 deaths delayed or averted and 17,100 ktCO2e fewer GHGEs; scenario C, 1,200 deaths delayed or averted, 18,500 ktCO2e fewer GHGEs, and £3.4 billion revenue; and scenario D, 2,000 deaths delayed or averted and 16,500 ktCO2e fewer GHGEs. Deaths averted are mainly due to increased fibre and reduced fat consumption; a SSB tax reduces SSB and sugar consumption.

Incorporating the social cost of carbon into the price of food has the potential to improve health, reduce GHGEs, and raise revenue. The simple addition of a tax on SSBs can mitigate negative health consequences arising from sugar being low in GHGEs. Further conflicts remain, including increased consumption of unhealthy foods such as cakes and nutrients such as salt.


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