Once you accept that the modern "public health" movement is only the latest incarnation of puritanism that is blurred and lost throughout history, it is easy to predict the next goal. If you further suppose – and who can now deny it? – that nanny runners follow a pattern determined by the anti-smoking lobby, making it easy to guess not only their future goals but also their methods.
So, when I suggested in an interview a few years ago that the next bad cases would fall under the "public health" cross hair of caffeine, gambling and red meat, it was not because I had mental powers nor why was noisy in medical journals on these issues (there was). It was because, for centuries, they were the classic targets of hashish and ascetics when they were tired of fighting the demon and the smoke.
Coffee is very popular in the upper middle classes to get away, but this year we saw the start of a smaller crusade against energy drinks. The imminent drop in fixed-income betting bets represents the first real scalp for anti-players for decades, with a gambling advert featured as the next dragon to kill.
The meat had an easier ride. So far. A study published today at PLoS One it is very much like starting a concerted effort to eliminate processed and red meat. The crusade begins, as usually the crusades, with a momentum for sin.
Like most of the important policy-based elements in public health in recent years, the study is based on opaque computer modeling. It makes estimates for how many people die from over-consumption of meat, how much the society costs and the size of the tax that is needed to balance costs. It then calculates how many lives will be expanded with the consumption of processed meat that will fall at a time of higher prices.
The published document does not provide sufficient information for the model to be meaningfully evaluated by the reader, but one thing is clear: figures are not feasible. The authors estimate that the total number of deaths from processed and red meat is 2,390,000 people per year. The link between processed meat and bowel cancer is reasonably potent due to reduced standards of epidemiological nutrition and there may be a correlation between dietary and coronary heart disease and stroke. Even so, a figure of 2.4 million defies conviction. The authors admit that Nystery &according to the estimates of the Global Burden of Disease, it is estimated that the actual number will be 900,000 in 2010 and 700,000 in 2013. That suffices for a discrepancy, but they do not mention the latest version of the report that put the figure at just 140,000. The estimate published today is therefore seventeen times greater than the estimate of the same risk factor published just a year ago. How can one trust in this area of the academic community?
Their estimates for the United Kingdom are equally outrageous. They claim that processed and red meat causes 70,000 deaths a year in Britain. This is a nine! 70,000 deaths are far more than what is said to be caused by obesity and ten times more than caused by alcohol. If today's assessment is right – and let's face it, it is not – only smoking can compete against it.
If you can swallow the idea that 2.4 million people are bacon and sardines every year, you may be willing to believe that the authors believe that processed and red meat takes a $ 285 billion cost of health care in the world every year . Taking this percentage and adding some unspecified assumptions about greenhouse gas costs to the environment, they decide that the price of processed meat should be increased in rich countries by an average of 111% to offset its negative effects.
Such calculations are not uncommon in the economy. The usual way of dealing with negative externalities is to apply a tax to the Pigadas, thus re-transferring to the user the external cost of consumption. To do this, you must first calculate net external costs. At this point, people of "public health" always go wrong by calculating internal costs (such as lost productivity) as external costs and by failing to deduct savings. People living at a mature age tend to cost a lot of money, but a classic mistake in such public health studies assumes that someone who avoids a diet-related illness will avoid any other illness and will never cause any problems to health again.
Today's study is not detailed enough to see if the authors have made all these mistakes, but the magnitude of their estimates suggests they have. They estimate that only the United Kingdom has to tax meat bounty to £ 2.9bn a year. This, they say, will reduce the consumption of processed meat by ten grams a day and will save 6,100 lives. That's almost half a million pounds for every hypothetical life.
Leaving aside the rubbish and rubbish methodology at the root of these figures, it seems unlikely that a British government – even one that will ban plastic straws and taxes – will introduce a 78 per cent tax on processed meat, this is suggested by the authors. It is even less likely that everyone in the world will go vegan, even though the main writer, Marco Springmann, told dealers that it was supposed to happen at the End of Meat Conference last year.
Yet, any state nanny politics sounds absurd until the public has been disturbed by listening, scanty statistics and empty promises for a few years. No one who has seen the unprecedented rise of the public health movement over the past two decades can reject the possibility of introducing a meat tax in the near future, possibly following a ban on advertising and graphic warnings.
Chances are reduced when you think it's not just the "public health" lobby that wants it. There is now a dishonest alliance between health campaigns, vegans, vegetarians and environmentalists on this issue. This is the next battlefield of the regulation of the way of life and only a fool will bet against the people who always win.