Bioethics Blogs

Cross Post: Why we should tax meat that contains antibiotics

Alberto Giubilini, University of Oxford

The use of antibiotics in meat production is a major contributor to one of the biggest threats facing human health in the 21st century: antibiotic resistance. Finding a solution to this requires us to start taking responsibility for our actions. While one person eating meat has an imperceptible effect on antibiotic resistance, multiply that by millions of people around the world and you have a global crisis.

One way to tackle this would be to introduce a tax on meat produced with the use of antibiotics, to take account of our moral responsibility for the cost of our actions. And most meat eaters are responsible.

Any meat you buy in your local supermarket has probably been reared with the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics aren’t just used for treating disease but also as a preventative measure, and, outside Europe, to promote animal growth. Estimates of total annual global consumption of antibiotics in animal agriculture vary considerably but could be as much as 240,000 tonnes. And their use is set to increase by 67% from 2010 to 2030.

Perhaps most worryingly, our “last resort” antibiotics are routinely used in animals, with devastating effects. E. coli bacteria resistant to the antibiotic colistin were found in 20% of animals tested during research in China, where it is habitually given to pigs.

The effect of a tax would be twofold: it would discourage consumers from buying this kind of meat, and it would help fund a transition to more sustainable methods of rearing livestock.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.