Could the model of anti-smoking messages have the same impact if transposed to meat consumption? This is what British researchers have set out to determine.
In an experiment involving a thousand consumers, they proposed a selection of dishes accompanied by warning messages combined with pictures, as typically featured on cigarette packets. Their goal was to find out whether conveying messages about the climate and health impact of meat would encourage people to reduce their meat consumption.
The authors thus recruited a nationally representative UK sample of 1,001 meat eaters aged over 18, randomly divided into four test groups.
Some of them were invited to choose around 20 different vegetarian or meat dishes (such as burgers, pasta, burritos) from an online menu. The meat dishes were associated with warning messages and pictures, similar to those seen on cigarette packets.
Some of these labels displayed content relating to the impact of meat on health, while others focused on the climate or the risk of a pandemic. The cohort also included a control group in which the menus proposed were not associated with any warning labels.
The experiment showed that, compared with the control group, the presence of warning messages – of all kinds – helped to reduce the proportion of meat-based meals chosen by participants.
The risk of another pandemic seemed to be the most convincing argument, since it reduced the choice of meat-based options by 10%, compared with 8.8% for health consequences and 7.4% for climate impact.
The researchers point out, however, that there were no “statistically significant differences in meat meal selection between the different types of warning labels”.
“Our findings of the effectiveness of health, climate, and pandemic warning labels on hypothetical meat meal selection should be considered in light of how resistant to change meat consumption habits are,” the experts wrote.
They concluded that “future research may wish to explore the impact of animal welfare warning labels on meat selection and consumption”.
This is not the first study to test the impact of warning messages on meat consumption. Last December, US researchers demonstrated that labels providing information on a product’s environmental impact could dissuade consumers from choosing high-carbon foods, particularly red meat.
In 2021, Scandinavian researchers reached a similar conclusion, suggesting that showing the environmental cost of a food product with a labelling system could steer consumers towards greener alternatives.