RESEARCH studies and their associated messages regarding diet are famously contradictory, making it difficult to persuade people when there’s evidence of a health risk. Red meat, like red wine, has had its fair share of attention in this regard, with the trend suggesting the foodstuff is something with which we should ca’ canny.

New research led by Oxford University concludes that a “meat tax” or “health levy” could prevent 220,000 deaths worldwide and save more than £30 billion in healthcare costs annually. It’s an eye-catching claim.

Taxation is always a serious step with implications but, where health is concerned, it’s the last resort that often ends up implemented, be it on tobacco or sugar in fizzy drinks. It saves the people from themselves. And it does this by pushing up prices. According to the new research, optimal tax levels in the US, Sweden and Germany translate to a price increase of around 30 per cent on unprocessed meat and up to 185 per cent on processed, while in the UK the calculation would put up unprocessed meat by 14 per cent and processed by 79.

The study suggests a health levy would reduce consumption of processed meat by two portions per week. Even replacing these with unprocessed meat would be an improvement, red meat being a grey area in which the processed variety is said to contain greater health risks. According to the World Health Organisation, processed red meat is carcinogenic and unprocessed “probably” so.

Countervailing research can be found suggesting that meat-eating is healthy and that contrary inferences stem from wider dietary considerations: those eating prime steak and veg suffer less than those eating pie and chips.

Scotland has a hearty meat industry, proud of its quality standards. This latest study puts the ball in its court as to explaining why a tax would be a bad idea. Otherwise, it could be another last resort that ends up implemented.