Tax breaks for vegans? A nice idea, but it’s never going to happen.
With a hellish election season underway, an old question has been making murmurs around vegan circles again: should vegans get tax cuts for their efforts in helping the environment? With animal agriculture as a leading contributing factor of greenhouse gas emissions, a lot of vegans think we should get a little love for our part in keeping green. I mean, how awesome does that sound? Cutting animal products out of your diet completely is one of the best things you can possibly do for the environment as an individual, and a proposal to reward vegans for making this choice sounds almost too good to be true. Well, it probably is too good to be true, but it’s a nice dream.
The idea first hit the mainstream animal rights community in 2007, when hybrid owners heard that they may be getting a tax break for the purchase of a more environmentally friendly car. The proposal has resulted in tax rewards for hybrid driving Americans, and PETA took the 2007 announcement as an opportunity to push for plant-friendly rewards. According to Free Republic, Ingrid Newkirk sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader at the time, outlining why those who eat vegetarian should receive breaks on taxes. “Although most Americans can’t afford to pay upward of $20,000 for a new hybrid car, everyone can go vegetarian,” said Newkirk. She continued on to say, “anyone who buys a hybrid in order to cut down on their contribution to global warming and uses it to drive to the supermarket to buy chicken, steaks, and milk should face up to the fact that there’s no such thing as a meat-eating environmentalist.” As expected, leaders in Congress showed no interest.
American legislators are ankle deep in the muck that animal product farmers have stirred up, and the Big Ag lobbyists are a powerful bunch. Of course no member of congress is going to fight against the industry that keeps them in office, and yanks thousands of dollars in spending when the status quo is not followed. OpenSecrets reports that “Individuals and political action committees associated with the agribusiness sector contributed more than $90 million at the federal level during the 2012 election cycle — the biggest increase ever from one cycle to the next for this sector.” Of course, it’s important to note that this sector also contains crop producers, but is made up of livestock, dairy, and egg producers, as well as interest groups such as tobacco farmers, lumber mills, and large scale crop farmers. Agribusiness is serious business.
Even if members of congress had some miraculous change of heart, specifically rewarding vegans would be tricky. Matt Prescott of PETA stated, “I imagine that a system could be adopted whereby taxpayers could show receipts for food purchases and/or sign an affidavit attesting that they are vegetarian.” With zero accountability for this process, anyone could promise they were vegan or vegetarian while lying through their teeth. Imagine how quickly the vegan population would grow over the course of one night with all those skewed numbers! Access to fresh fruits and vegetables must also be at the forefront of a conversation when we discuss tax breaks for any population.
Perhaps a more likely alternative is to throw that carbon tax on meat purchases and lower taxation of vegetables. If you’re going to eat unethically, it’s fair to be prepared to pay a price. The Scientific American reported on the meat tax idea in the context of the UK taxation system in February. “While Britons would see their weekly shopping bills go up by about the price of a latte, the tax revenue for the British government could reach as high as £3.6 billion ($5.26 billion), and could cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 16.5 million and 18.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.”
Unfortunately, the above is framed in such a way that a small tax would simply raise revenue, not wholly discourage meat consumption on a sustainable, ethical basis. So, onto my favorite idea…
Push veganism, and push it hard. Stress that it is not only better for the environment, but is the only way to personally reject the use and exploitation of living, sentient beings. With the increasing popularity of veganism not just as a plant based diet but as an entire ethical stance, unethical industries must be financially drained to the point where they do not hold congressional power anymore, and cannot continue to receive government subsidies for torturing and using animals. While we may point to tax breaks or meat taxes as a means of discouraging meat consumption, it’s going to take more than a few extra dollars either in or out of our pockets to bring ethical veganism to the forefront of consumer’s minds. Congress might be next to useless when it comes to animal rights, as their focus is on animal “welfare” and not the end of exploitation. We can, however, use our monetary power as consumers (vote with your dollar!), and at least keep more cash out of the pockets of government funded farms, to pave the way to a vegan future.