No evidence for energy secretary’s claim that Labour is ‘relaxed’ about taxing meat

3 October 2023
What was claimed

Labour is relaxed about taxing meat.

Our verdict

We’ve found no evidence to support this claim and Ms Coutinho has not provided any. Taxing meat is not Labour policy and the idea was rejected by a Shadow Cabinet member in 2021.

It’s no wonder that Labour seems so relaxed about taxing meat. Keir Starmer doesn’t eat it and Ed Miliband is clearly scarred by his skirmish with a bacon sandwich.

In a speech on the second day of the Conservative party conference, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Claire Coutinho claimed that Labour “seems so relaxed” about taxing meat.

Full Fact contacted Ms Coutinho and the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero to ask what her claim was based on, but have not had any response. However, we’ve found no evidence of the Labour party supporting taxes on meat. The party confirmed to us that taxing meat is not Labour policy. 

Ms Coutinho was asked about her comments while appearing in an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News. Ms Coutinho didn’t provide any specific evidence or expand upon her earlier claim when asked repeatedly about it, but instead described her comments as “a light hearted moment in the speech” and added: “When people tell you that they want to discourage people from eating meat, what they mean is a tax…when they talk about moving at the pace that they’re moving, what they’re implying is that difficult choices will have to be made.”

The minister’s remarks come two weeks after the Prime Minister said he would scrap meat taxes as part of his “new approach to Net Zero”. We looked at his comments at the time, and found that while some official bodies had mentioned the idea, there was no evidence the government intended to tax meat in order to meet climate change commitments. 

Claims about opposition party policy without appropriate context and caveats can damage public trust in both politicians and the political process. Ministers must ensure they back up their claims with evidence and rectify oversights when they occur. 

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What has Labour said about taxing meat? 

Meat is currently exempt from VAT. We’ve not found any evidence to suggest that the Labour party or senior Labour politicians have supported or indicated they are “relaxed” about meat taxes, but the idea has been mentioned in the media a number of times in recent years.

In October 2021, a research paper by the government’s Behavioural Insights Team for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was published online. 

The research looked at behaviour changes that could assist in achieving Net Zero, and  discussed “carbon taxes”, including the notion of a “producer-facing carbon tax on ruminant products”. However, the paper noted “an unsophisticated meat tax would be highly regressive”. The document was deleted several hours after publication and the department said it was uploaded in error.

The following week, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Labour’s then-shadow business secretary Ed Miliband was asked if his party backed a tax on meat. He said: “No, I’m sceptical about meat tax and let me explain why I’m sceptical about a meat tax. It goes to this fairness point. The British people want us to tackle this problem right across the population, they care about this, but they’re asking this question—is this transition going to be fair?”. 

Another senior Labour politician, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, is the current chair of C40 Cities, which describes itself as a “global network of mayors of the world’s leading cities that are united in action to confront the climate crisis”.

Earlier this month, the Telegraph published an article headlined “No meat, no dairy and three outfits a year: Welcome to Sadiq Khan’s plan for London“. It said that C40 Cities had, in a 2019 report, considered changes to people’s consumption patterns and how they would impact climate change. In a section labelled “Food: Consumption Interventions”, researchers modelled changes consumers could make to their diets, and noted that an “ambitious target in 2030” would be for “0 kg meat consumption” and “0 kg dairy consumption”. 

However, the Mayor of London’s office told the Telegraph: “This report was published well before Sadiq became chair of C40. The ideas mentioned are not proposals let alone recommendations and the Mayor is certainly not suggesting to anyone that they shouldn't eat meat. “

A search of Hansard suggests the phrase “meat tax” has been mentioned once in Parliament in recent years, by the Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, the day after the Behavioural Insights Team’s research paper was accidentally published. She said: “I do not think that the idea of a meat tax is the way to go.” 

Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew.

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Claire Coutinho to request a correction regarding this claim.

Ms Coutinho did not respond. 

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