A so-called "meat tax" could save nearly 6,000 lives in the United Kingdom every year and contribute more than £700m to the economy through reduced healthcare costs, researchers have claimed.
By 2020, consumption of red and processed meat is likely to cause 2.4m deaths per year and cost the global economy $285bn (£219bn), the study, published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, found.
Attempts by the government to tell what to do people don't always go down well. This would lead to a $41bn saving in annual healthcare costs, the research shows.
As a result, consumption of unprocessed meat was predicted to remain unchanged by 2020.
Lead researcher Dr Marco Springmann, from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, said: "The consumption of red and processed meat exceeds recommended levels in most high and middle-income countries. It is not about taking something away from people, it is about being fair".
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Christopher Snowdon, from the Institute for Economic Affairs, said taxing food was "the next battleground for the nanny state".
There is also a growing awareness of the environmental impact of eating red meat. In May, a major analysis of the damage livestock does found that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact. That would amount to a reduction in the number of deaths attributed to eating meat of 15.6%. Diets are changing, with a third of British people now having stopped or reduced meat eating. With reduced consumption of red meat, the study, published on November 6, claims there would be 220,000 fewer deaths from chronic disease per year around the world.
Red meat is, as the name suggests, any meat that is red in colour when uncooked.
The researchers calculated red meat taxes for 149 different nations, with the rate depending on how much red meat those citizens eat and the costliness of their healthcare system.
Although the tax would massively push up the price of burgers, sausages, mince and steak, scientists behind the study called on all governments to consider imposing it.
In the United Kingdom, they said the "optimal" tax level to reduce consumption would increase the cost of red meat by 14% and processed meat by 79%.
A meat tax, he says, could also be used to subsidize fruits and vegetables or to help farmers and butchers transition away from red meat.
The proposed taxes would result in a 16% reduction in the processed meat eaten around the world, the scientists estimated, which would cut the greenhouse gas emissions from livestock by 110m tonnes per year. "Problem is that they might switch to something even more unhealthy, especially if they're poor".
But while the move may be unpopular, one student on Twitter said they would cut down on the amount of meat she now buys if the tax came into effect.
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