Thousands of lives and more than £700m in healthcare costs could be saved in the UK each year with the introduction of a tax on red meat, according to a study released on Wednesday.
Researchers at the University of Oxford claim that a 79% tax on processed meats such as sausages and bacon and a 14% tax on unprocessed red meat such as steak would be the optimal level of taxation.

High consumption of red meat such as beef, lamb and pork has been linked to a host of health problems, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and cancer.

If implemented worldwide, the researchers said such measures would prevent 220,000 deaths and save £30bn in healthcare costs.

Marco Springmann, lead researcher on the study, said: “I hope that governments will consider introducing a health levy on red and processed meat as part of a range of measures to make healthy and sustainable decision-making easier for consumers. A health levy on red and processed meat would not limit choices, but send a powerful signal to consumers.”

However, critics argue that the proposed tax would push people on the poverty line into further financial difficulty and Christopher Snowdon, from the Institute for Economic Affairs, said taxing food was “the next battleground for the nanny state”.

A tax would also likely have a profound affect on butchers and other food industry companies such as London-listed outfits Hilton Food Group and Crawshaw, which cut 350 jobs after it entered administration earlier this month.

In October, Hilton partnered with Dutch vegetarian product manufacturer Dalco Food in order to expand its offering in the “fast-growing vegetarian market”.

With rumblings of a red meat tax, along with research from Mintel released earlier this month suggesting that 34% of Brits have reduced their meat consumption and sales of meat-free foods estimated to increase by 44% and reach £1.1bn by 2023, other industry players might be well advised to follow Hilton's lead.