Meat marketing: new study finds 'cigarette-style' health and climate warning labels help cut meat consumption
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Graphic warnings about negative health and environmental outcomes, like the ones on cigarette packets, may help encourage shoppers to buy and eat less meat.
A new study released on Wednesday (1 November) by Durham University researchers split 1,001 meat-eating adults into four groups, showing them pictures of hot canteen-style meals which contained either a health warning label, a climate warning label, a future pandemic warning label, or no label. The environmental label showed a deforested area with factory smoke in the distance, and text saying: “Eating meat contributes to climate change”.
The interviewees were then asked a series of questions about what they would choose, how anxious the warnings made them feel, and how believable they were - with researchers finding the stark reminders all worked in discouraging people from selecting a meat-based meal.
The finding suggested labels may help the UK meet its environmental commitments, with the government advisory Climate Change Committee saying that reducing Britain's meat and dairy consumption by just 20% would help achieve net zero by 2050. Study author and psychology PhD student Jack Hughes told PA reaching net zero was a priority for the nation and the planet.
“As warning labels have already been shown to reduce smoking as well as drinking of sugary drinks and alcohol, using a warning label on meat-containing products could help us achieve this if introduced as national policy," he said.
Senior author Dr Milica Vasiljevic added: “We already know that eating a lot of meat, especially red and processed meat, is bad for your health and that it contributes to deaths from pollution and climate change. Adding warning labels to meat products could be one way to reduce these risks to health and the environment.”
Recently, a major University of Oxford study demonstrated just how big an impact reducing meat consumption could have on the planet - with researchers finding a completely plant-based diet produced 75% less greenhouse gas emissions than a high-meat diet. In terms of health, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified processed meats including bacon, ham and salami as Group 1 carcinogens - meaning there was strong evidence they could cause cancer - and has warned against eating too much red meat as it may also increase cancer risk.
However University of Warwick behavioural expert Professor Ivo Vlaev, a specialist in “nudge tactics”, told PA that while highlighting the negative consequences of consuming meat could be more effective than promoting the benefits of alternative choices - the messaging had to be fair.
“The nuances and intricacies of implementation cannot be overlooked, as such interventions have the potential to be contentious... One could reasonably envision an organic chicken farmer in Shropshire taking issue with a label suggesting deforestation in the Amazon."