In our new study, colleagues from the International Food Policy Research Institute in the U.S., and the Oxford Martin School and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, analysed the impact of regulating red and processed meat consumption through a health tax on meat.
The World Health Organisation has classified beef, lamb and pork as carcinogenic when eaten in processed form, and "probably" cancer-causing when consumed unprocessed.
Like taxes on other products that can harm health, a health tax on red and processed meat could encourage consumers to make healthier choices.
The resulting higher prices would also cut meat consumption by two portions a week - now people in rich nations each eat one portion a day.
Sausages, bacon and burgers could soon come with a luxury price tag, because scientists have recommended processed meat in the United Kingdom is taxed by 79%.
"Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can't eat".
For the United Kingdom alone, an effective meat tax that offset healthcare costs would prevent 5,920 deaths per year, amounting to a reduction of 15.6 per cent in the number of deaths attributed to eating meat, according to the study.
We estimated that in 2020, there will be 2.4m deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption globally, as well as US$285 billion in costs related to healthcare.
The US would have the highest tax rates with 163% fee on ham and sausages and a 34% levy on steaks.
"This is having significant impacts not only on personal health, but also on healthcare systems, which are taxpayer-funded in many countries, and on the economy, which is losing its labour force due to ill health and care for family members who fall ill".
'A health levy on red and processed meat would not limit choices, but send a powerful signal to consumers and take pressure off our healthcare systems.
Why can red meat be harmful?
As a result, consumption of unprocessed meat was predicted to remain unchanged by 2020.
Regular consumption of processed meat has also been linked to a 9% higher risk of breast cancer, according to an analysis of various scientific studies that was published in October. In October, scientists reported that huge reductions in meat eating are essential to avoid risky climate change, including a 90% drop in beef consumption in western nations.
Globally the benefits of a meat tax included a 16% reduction in processed meat consumption, and the prevention of 222,000 deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.
To fully cover the costs, the health taxes would have to be doubled and, in high-income countries, increase to 200% for processed meat.
Attempts by the government to tell what to do people don't always go down well.
Louise Meincke, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: "This research, looking at the potential effects of a meat tax, shows it could help reduce the level of meat consumption, similar to how a sugar-sweetened beverage tax works, as well as offset costs to the healthcare system and improve environmental sustainability". One way to reduce that impact would be a meat tax, which we would welcome, but another option would be to address the subsidies now given to animal farming. "Meat does not contain fibre, whereas beans, peas and lentils are fibre-rich and they can count as one of your five-a-day".