Meat tax: Will Germans swallow higher prices?

As piles of inexpensive steaks and sausages fill German supermarkets, some politicians want meat's environmental cost reflected on the price tag. But a tax hike might not change much at all.


Author Sabine Kinkartz, Deutsche Welle (Germany)



It's summer, and in Germany, people are cooking out at the grill. Grocery stores and supermarkets are well aware of this and have filled the shelves with vast amounts of meat. Shoppers can find piles of meat marinated, sliced, skewered and pressed into sausages, and they can find the meat at low prices.


This week, a 500-gram (1.1-pound) rib-eye steak advertised as "the best steak for connoisseurs" cost 7 ($7.85) at discount store Aldi. Pork sausages cost 3.73 per kilogram. The same amount of mixed ground pork and beef costs less than 4.


And consumers don't even need to clip a coupon because in Germany nearly all supermarkets stock meat at similarly low prices.


Big market for cheap meat


The low prices are not only because meat, like bread, fruits and vegetables, is considered a staple food item and therefore subject to a reduced value-added tax (VAT) rate of 7% instead of the standard 19%.


Instead, it is largely because production is cheap and prolific. The meat industry is a major economic sector in Germany with the 25 largest meat companies generating sales just shy of 27 billion in 2018.


Critics have accused meat companies of maximizing profits at the expense of poorly paid farm and slaughterhouse workers and the animals' welfare.


Stricter regulations outside Germany


In Germany, the Animal Welfare Act applies to livestock, but hidden-camera photos and videos released by animal protection organizations have shown that the majority of animals suffer on industrial farms. The images show animals in confined spaced where they are unable to move freely and where the key concern is getting them to slaughtering weight as quickly as possible.


Martin Hofstetter from Greenpeace said Germany's regulations are "more lax," whereas in other EU countries farmers are required to allocate more space for rearing pigs than in Germany.


He also said regulations on the amounts of liquid manure and the use of drugs and antibiotics are more tightly controlled in other countries.


"This development was politically intended in order to make Germany a world champion exporter of cheap meat products," said Hofstetter.


Those Sunday roasts add up


Eating meat has long been considered a sign of prosperity in Germany and regularly putting a "Sunday roast" on the table meant that things were going particularly well for a family.


Between 1961 and 2011, meat consumption rose from 64 kilograms to 90 kilograms per person per year. Since then it has been sinking and currently stands at around 60 kilograms annually per person.


Additionally, every year, around 20 kilograms of meat per person are processed into animal feed and other items. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) put the global meat consumption average at 40 kilograms per person.


According to the Federal Statistics Office, 29.4 million pigs, cattle, sheep and goats were slaughtered in Germany in the first half of 2019 and processed into 3.9 million tons of meat. These figures continue to put Germany among the world's top meat producing nations.


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A tax too high for some and too low for others? ...


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