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Taxing and Managing Meat: An Integrated Approach to Tackle Climate Change

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By Maria Alejandra Serra Barney, Nathalia Cortez Gomez, Lorena Perez Roa and Melanie Auvray (Alumni Tilburg Law School)

taxing meat report

A few months ago, a team of four master students from Tilburg University participated in the Geneva Challenge 2018 on Climate Change. Our proposal aimed to tackle greenhouse gas emissions of the livestock industry, by creating a Global Tax Meat Scheme, that would allow countries from all over the world to have a profound transition to a cleaner industry while achieving a change on consumer’s behavior.


Climate Change is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Action and cooperation from every country is needed, as well as from every sector and industry. While several actions to mitigate Climate Change have been developed in the most acknowledged pollutant industries, such as transportation, mining, or product manufacturing, the severe environmental impacts of the livestock industry have managed to remain in the shadows. Livestock industry alone is responsible for 14.5% of the annual worldwide Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrogen Dioxide (N2O), exceeding the emissions produced by the entire global transportation sector[1]. Nevertheless, a survey developed by Chatham House along with the Glasgow University in 2014[2], revealed that livestock sector is not recognized by people as a contributor to climate change[3]. As a matter of fact, one-quarter of people considered that ‘meat and dairy production contributes either little or nothing to climate change’[4].


Accordingly, and contrary to popular belief, the livestock industry is responsible for a large amount of the global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, which are generated through animal physiology (enteric fermentation, respiration and excretions), animal housing, feed crops, manure handling, processing of livestock products and bi-products, transportation and land use for livestock production (deforestation, desertification)[5]. This should not come as a surprise, considering its strong place in the economies of both developed and developing countries, as the main supplier of global calories, proteins, and essential micronutrients[6]. Likewise, livestock production is a good alternative in some developing countries that have difficulty growing crops and need to ensure the nutrition of their population[7], however relying almost exclusively in livestock products entails risks for human health and food security itself. The consumption of meat in developed countries is five times higher than in the developing countries[8], which increases the risk of colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer[9]. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat) has been classified as Group 2A: “probably carcinogenic to humans”; and processed meat (‘hot dogs’, ham, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces) as Group 1: “carcinogenic to humans”[10], just as tobacco smoking and asbestos. This is why the WHO stresses the importance of the reduction on consumption of processed meat[11], which makes the leading role that meat products have in food security nowadays questionable.


In addition, the increase in the global temperature will have a direct impact on the health and life of livestock animals[12]. According to experts, the rise in the temperature will enable the acceleration in the growth of pathogens and parasites[13], which might generate shifts in disease spreading, outbreaks of severe diseases or even introduce new ones[14], increasing the risk of morbidity and death of livestock. Therefore, relying on livestock products to guarantee the food security in the world might lead to a food crisis in the future.


For environmental, health and food security reasons, livestock production should be limited and regulated. However, when it comes to international environmental treaties and agreements, even though there is a commitment and a mandate for countries to reduce GHG emissions, livestock industry is not really targeted, even though the projections indicate that animal product consumption will continue to increase[15]. Indeed, UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol only formulate a fragmented set of rules’[16] and the Paris Agreement gives general recommendations that prioritize food security rather than targeting livestock industry. Regarding the health and food security issues related to the livestock industry, some countries are already using taxation to encourage healthy eating habits on its population, for instance by raising the prices of sugary soft drinks or sweets. Nevertheless, this approach has never been used on livestock products that, as it was explained before, are known to cause several health issues when consumed in excess.


In this sense, a study on the results on taxing beef, pork and chicken[17] in Denmark, succeeded to prove that a possible tax on meat would reduce GHG emissions between 10.4% and 19.4% for an average household[18]. However, we believe that these figures are not enough. Our proposal for the Geneva Challenge 2018 consisted in the establishment of a Global Meat Tax Scheme, which would consider the application of taxes in developed countries and levied on the consumers in order to directly induce changes in meat consumption. It should be collected by national authorities which must ensure that tax revenues are given back to specific actors so they can invest in the development of eco-efficient technologies to support technological improvements of the livestock industry management, or to invest in high protein food alternatives[19]. Likewise, governments shall cooperate with international organizations in order to promote and support the transition into cleaner technology and farming processes in developing countries .

To make sure that tax revenue funds are safe and utilized solely for the intended purposes, we suggest the utilization of blockchain technology, which would enhance the security of the scheme, guaranteeing the transparency of all transactions being made, and as a consequence promoting trust among governmental entities and individuals. Likewise, States would be under the monitoring and supervision of an international authority, which would assess the compliance of the States and the adequate utilization of the funds.


We invite you to read our full project report for further explanations on this “Global Meat Tax Scheme” and its complementary adaptation and mitigation measures which would allow countries from all over the world to have a profound transition of the industry to cleaner livestock management while achieving a change on consumer’s behavior.


[1] M. Rojas-Downing et al, Climate Change and livestock: Impacts, adaptation and mitigation. (Climate Risk Management, 2017) 152

[2] Rob Bailey, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption (2014) < > accessed  16 April 2018

[3] Rob Bailey, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption (2014) < > accessed  16 April 2018

[4] Rob Bailey, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption (2014) < > accessed  16 April 2018

[5] M. Rojas-Downing et al, Climate Change and livestock: Impacts, adaptation and mitigation. (Climate Risk Management, 2017) 151.

[6] Philip Thornton, Mario Herrero and Polly Ericksen, Livestock and climate change (2011) Livestock Exchange Issue Brief 3

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] World Health Organization, Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat (2015) <> accessed 22 April 2018

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid. Cf: “The IARC Working Group considered more than 800 different studies on cancer in humans (some studies provided data on both types of meat; in total more than 700 epidemiological studies provided data on red meat and more than 400 epidemiological studies provided data on processed meat)”

[12] Alessandro, Nardone et al., Effect of climate changes on animal production and sustainability of livestock system (2010) LIVEST SCI. 57, 69 <10.1016/j.livsci.2010.02.011> Accessed 15 April 2018.

[13] C.D. Harvell et al., Climate warming and disease risks for terrestrial and marine biota (2002) Science 296 <> Accessed on 23 April 2018

[14] P.K. Thornton et al., The impacts of climate change on livestock and livestock systems in developing countries: A review of what we know and what we need to know (2009) ILRI <> Accessed on 25 April 2018

[15]  European Parliament, What if animal farming were not so bad for the environment (2017) <> accessed on 05 May 2018

[16] Bob O’Sullivan and Charlotte Streck, Forestry and Agriculture under the UNFCCC: A Jigsaw Waiting to be Assembled? (The Oxford Handbook of International Climate Change Law, 2016)

[17] Sarah Sall, Ing-Marie Gren, Effects of an environmental tax on meat and dairy consumption in Sweden (2015) Food Policy 41

[18] Louise Edjabou, S. Smed, The effect of using consumption taxes on foods to promote climate friendly diets and the case of Denmark (2013)  Food Policy 39, 84-96.

[19] Kelechi E Nnoaham et al, Modelling income group differences in the health and economic impacts of targeted food taxes and subsidies (2009) OJLS


Movie Review: Unlocking the Cage

By Ismet Öncü

(Student, Tilburg University)



The DNA of a chimpanzee matches for nearly 98% with the DNA of a human. Does this mean that they should be entitled to the same rights? As of today the main question to determine whether you have a right or not is: are you a human being? In Unlocking the Cage D.A. Pennebaker and documentary veteran Chris Hegedus follow Steven Wise in his extraordinary challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from human beings. His team’s, the Nonhuman Rights Project, objective is to transform an animal, more specific ‘’non-human’’ animals, e.g. chimpanzees, whales, elephants, from a ‘’thing’’ with no rights to a person that has legal protection and legal personhood. Wise and his team are making history by filing the first lawsuits to achieve this goal.


unlocking the cageThe movie tells a story about the Non-human Rights Project (NhRP). This is an animal rights organization that tries to establish legal personhood for certain ‘’non-human’’ animals.  These non-human animals are for example apes, elephants and cetaceans etc. It is possibly the only organization in the United States that puts time into achieving actual legal rights for animals. Their goal is to achieve a change in the legal status of non-human animals from just ‘animals’ into a legal person who possesses (fundamental) legal rights (e.g. the integrity of the body or bodily liberty). They try to achieve their goals through litigation, advocacy and education. Besides the already mentioned goal of changing the common law status of non-human animals, their goals are furthermore to consider other qualities that may be sufficient for recognition of nonhuman animals’ legal personhood and fundamental rights: inspiration is drawn from evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience. The NhRP also develops local, national, and global issue-oriented grassroots campaigns to promote recognition of nonhuman animals as beings worthy of moral and legal consideration that have their own inherent interests in freedom from captivity, participation in a community of other members of their species, and the protection of their natural habitats. The organization aims to build a broad-based coalition of organizations and individuals to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals and to foster understanding of the social, historical, political, and legal justice of their arguments and the scientific discovery of other species’ cognitive and emotional complexity that informs them.

The organization consists of a diverse team but what they have in common is an affection for law and animals. The team includes animal rights lawyers, legal experts and law students who work on a voluntary basis. Steven Wise is the organization’s “leader”. Wise is a respected teacher and author in the field of animal rights and animal jurisprudence. His subject ‘’Animal Rights Law’’ is taught at various universities across the United States.

The movie follows the ambitious efforts of Wise and his team in the period 2013 – 2015. The team tries to make history by going to the courtroom, attempting to improve animals’ legal position and give them rights. Their first step is the establishment of these rights for apes, elephants and cetaceans and after that other animals should follow. These animals were chosen because they have all been studied and it is determined that they have highly developed cognitive skills and awareness of themselves. Wise calls this a ‘’theory of mind’’.

Wise sets out to prove that cognitively complex animals (like the animals mentioned above) do have the capacity for limited personhood rights. Pennebaker and Hegedus have been following Wise’s and his teams’ historical battle for two years in order to understand what it means to be autonomous and whether sentient beings should have the right of freedom.

In the movie we see Wise and his team going around the state of New York in order to look for apes and see in which circumstances they live. Some apes were held in sanctuaries where they try to communicate with their human keepers. Other apes on the other hand, are being kept solely for the sake of being kept. Wise’s team builds court cases around those latter non-human animals (apes in this matter). As a starting point, Wise selects individual animals (Merlin and Koko for example) and his main goal is to establish legal personhood for these particular animals. His team takes action step by step in order to achieve this goal. The question is how fast this will happen. ‘’This is the end of the beginning’’, to quote Wise at the end of the movie.

The movie

Since the past decades, the fight for animal rights has become a growing movement. It is a movement with many fronts and expressions, from principled vegetarianism (but not exclusively) to the denouncement of animal experimentations. Unlocking the Cage focusses on the American front and on one intrepid animal advocate.

The movie revolves around the law suits lodged by the NhRP. Tommy is a chimpanzee who was isolated in a garage. Wise and his team demanded in the lawsuit that Tommy would be released and transferred to a Florida sanctuary. The lower judge was impressed by Wise’s arguments and directed the lawsuit to the Appellate Court in Albany. It was in 2014, in that case, that judges openly discussed the matter regarding legal personhood of non-human animals. Nevertheless, the results were unfavorable: Tommy was moved to a zoo and remained in deplorable conditions.

The next case involved a chimpanzee named Kiko. This case evolved in a different way compared to Tommy’s case. This case was a great showcase of the legal disagreement that exists on the question whether to enlarge the legal system by attributing legal rights to non-human animals or not. The case was rejected in first instance, but an appeal is planned before the appeals court.

The chimpanzees in the final case, Hercules and Leo, were used for research at New York’s State University. This was the case that truly challenged the court. Wise argued against the New York’s assistant attorney general by making a plea that made judge Barbara Jaffe question whether a chimpanzee should not be deemed a person for the limited purpose of permitting the writ of habeas corpus.

My opinion

(Ismet Öncü)

(Ismet Öncü)

In the past it was assumed that legal persons were individual human beings only. However, the personhood of corporations has also been affirmed. The personhood of corporations is routinely used as a liability and litigation tool: the question in this matter is whether the definition of “personhood” can also be expanded to include non-human animals? Can we compare the personhood of a corporation or a human’s personhood to the animal personhood? The former two can result into their own liability (and thus can results into liability for damages). This is not the case with animals. They are not entirely free from harm and exploitation.

While fervent animal rights advocates have argued for personhood for animals, the critics denounce the assertion as absurd. There has been some skepticism regarding this matter. However, the animal rights movement has slowly and zealously been inching for a while. In the world of animal law Wise is a known person and his achievements are inspiring. Below I will discuss my opinion on the pros and cons of the movie.


I can really recommend this movie for animal lovers, especially for those who are in law school. The movie is well paced and very informative. Unlocking the Cage has started the conversation about animal rights and since this movie more and more people started to listen. Speciesism is causing the destruction of the planet earth and this movie gives insight into that matter. Unlocking the Cage takes the next step in human evolution.

The movie was praised by national (American) and international media. They stated that the movie was a ‘’heroic courtroom thriller’’.

In my personal opinion the movie was a real eye-opener into a matter that was unknown territory for me. It is inspiring to see how passionate and with so much conviction Wise and his teams are committed to reaching their goals.


On the other hand, some of Wise’s viewpoints seem to be counterintuitive. How can an animal with no language or any other form of human culture have standing to seek redress from human institutions? Animals cannot start a legal process; thus it must be done on behalf of these animals. But do we have adequate animal advocates who are willing to do that? This is still a matter that remains unclear. Beside these procedural issues, practical concerns need to be addressed too. In the courtrooms, for instance, will these ‘’animal cases’’ be judges in front of the same judges where people start their lawsuits? Under which jurisdiction? Civil? Criminal? Will we need a separate jurisdiction within our legal system in order to deal with these animal cases? One judge’s decision on whether  a chimpanzee can have personhood ran over 30 pages and that says a lot. There are a lot of question that still need to be answered. Nevertheless, this does not devaluate the efforts of Wise and his team to bring awareness to the (legal) position of non-human animals.

Furthermore, I found that some of Wise’s arguments are stronger than others. He states that apes, elephants and cetaceans could be seen as ‘’legal persons’’ based on their ‘’theory of mind’’ and other human attributes. But is this not still a matter of scientific debate? It could be possible, in my opinion, to deny that these non-human animals Wise selects, are smart animals. It seems an arbitrary line to draw. Moreover, his intimation to a reporter that a chimp’s captor should move into a cage, in order to see if he likes being in there, seems a bit foolish to say the least. We, humans, do also not like to inhabit underground tunnels but this does not mean that rats are not perfectly happy there.

The goal of this movie is to create awareness but in my opinion Wise’s accomplishments disappoint at this point (apart from the moral victories). Wise and his team have not achieved much in those 2-3 years the camera crew of Hegedus and Pennebaker followed them. The things they do accomplish had already been covered in the news. This makes the movie feel kind of redundant. Most of the time the viewer looks at Wise’s appearances in various TV shows (i.g. The Colbert Report). Those parts are not trailblazing. The most interesting parts is the footage which provides a look into the New York State Supreme Court, where we can follow Wise arguing for his petition. In my opinion this back fired a bit, because the judges were asking genuinely probing questions and that made the whole matter seem even murkier. In short, this movie did not (yet) achieve much in the interesting matter of personhood of non-human animals.

Another question is whether there is a taxonomic reason for this matter to be made into a movie.  Some biologists have argued that there is no legitimate taxonomic reason to consider humans and apes as part of the same gen. The discussion on this subject has not yet ended in literature.[1] This matter goes back to Dawkin (2004) who popularized the notion that we (i.e., human beings) are the ‘’third chimpanzee’’. However, it is still not clear if human beings are great apes or not. This is important for our conceptualization of a human being. The scientific evidence in support of the point of view that we are great apes lies in anatomical and morphological arguments. Marks (2009) refers in this matter to the common ‘’Y5’’ pattern, a rotating shoulder, fused caudal vertebrae and a large and complex brain. On the other hand Dunbar (2008) claims that human beings differ from great apes. The critical aspect in his point of view lies in our imagination (e.g. religion, story-telling). In my opinion humans can be considered as humans and great apes are our closest extant relatives. It is our own ego that insists on dividing the line between humans and apes.


Overall Unlocking the Cage remains a great movie which gave me insight into the matter of animal legal rights. Unless the fact that I gave more cons than pros, I can really recommend (and I already did) to anyone who has an affection for law and animals combined. This movie captures a shift in our culture, as the public and juridical system show receptiveness to Steven Wise and his team’s impassioned arguments. Unlocking the cage is an intimate look at a lawsuit that is unprecedented and that could forever change our legal systems, if additional specifications, in my respect, are made.


[1] One may refer to Dawkins, R., The Ancestor’s Tale (2004). Bouston: Houghton Mufflin. Dunbar, R., Why Humans Aren’t Just Great Apes (2008). Ethnology and Anthropology. 3:15-33. Marks, J., Why Be Against Darwin? Creationism, Racism, and the roots of Anthropology. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 55: 95-104.

Category: Animal Law

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