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OPINION

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Meat tax could secure future of Swedish farms’

Sweden should introduce a meat tax designed to hit the sales of animal products that are worst for the environment, argues Per-Anders Jande from campaign group Swedish Food and Environment Information (Svensk mat och miljöinformation).

'Meat tax could secure future of Swedish farms'
Swedish cows. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SVD/TT

Social Democrat politician and Minister for Strategy and Future Issues Kristina Persson recently put together several working groups of experts to investigate Sweden’s future challenges.

One of these groups will focus on green changes and competitiveness and investigate how a meat tax could be an instrument for sustainable food consumption.

Swedish Food and Environment Information already believes that taxing meat in order to reduce its consumption could be a way of increasing Swedish agriculture’s competitiveness.

Animals actually provide a very inefficient way of producing nutrition. Plants need just a tenth of the same amount of land to produce the same amount of nutrition. Today, grasslands and embankments are cultivated to feed cattle throughout Sweden, but these areas could also be used for creating biogas and fertilizers.

This means we have the opportunity to produce a lot of bioenergy if we reduce our reliance on animals. This could be vital in making Sweden less dependent on fossil fuels in the long run and would help future-proof Sweden's agricultural industry.

Sweden also has an exploding market for alternative vegetarian products that could potentially replace meat and milk. Venturing into this future market could be an important part of future-proofing Swedish farming industry and help strengthen its competitiveness. A meat tax itself would stimulate the growth of vegetable-based options, making them relatively cheaper. 

Decreased meat consumption would also be an important investment in the future.

The burps and farts of cows and other animals contibute to high greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, deforestation of the earth’s large forests and other diverse ecosystems continues, while oceans are being over-fished to feed animals we breed.

The hunt for cattle food has resulted in some of the fastest extinctions of animal species in history. We still have the chance to stop this development, but we’re in a rush to do so and we need political tools to help. A meat tax is one of those tools.

Beef and dairy products have the worst effect on the climate. But pigs, chickens and hens also play a role by eating food which is imported, which also has a major environmental impact.

Therefore, environmental problems other than greenhouse gas emissions must also be subject to a meat tax in order for this to be a success.

A properly designed meat tax would affect the meat that has the worst impact on the environment.

Grazing on natural pastures would be rewarded.

We could reduce the proportion of imported meat, which often has a greater environmental impact than Swedish meat.

Meat tax revenues could be converted into cash to expand the production of bioenergy [from animal gas], to help secure the future of Swedish farming.    

Per-Anders Jande is a spokesperson for Swedish Food and Environmental Information, an independent non-governmental organization which supports a sustainable lifestyle designed to better support humans, animals and the global ecosystem.

This article originally appeared in Swedish in Gothenburg Post and was translated by The Local.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
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