WEDNESDAY, Nov. 1, 2023 -- Adding warning labels to meat about its impact on climate and health could lower its consumption, a new study suggests.

British researchers investigated what adding cigarette-style graphic warning labels to meat in a cafeteria setting might do.

“Reaching net zero is 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,” said study author Jack Hughes.

Hughes conducted the research with his supervisors as part of his PhD program in the department of psychology at Durham University, in the United Kingdom.

The study included a representative sample of just over 1,000 meat-eating adults who were split into four groups. They were shown pictures of hot meals a person might get at a cafeteria that contained a health warning label, climate warning label, pandemic warning label, or no label.

An example set of meals could be a meat pasta bake, fish pasta bake, vegetarian pasta bake and a vegan pasta bake, the study authors noted.

Participants were asked to make 20 separate decisions on different meal choices. They were also asked how anxiety provoking and believable they found the labels.

The researchers measured future intentions to buy and eat the meal options, as well as how appealing the meals appeared. The participants also indicated how supportive they would be of the different labels if they were implemented as policy.

All labels were effective at discouraging people from choosing meals with meat.

This reduced meat meal selections by 7% to 10%, the study found.

Participants were most in favor of climate warning labels and were most likely to believe those.

The findings, published Nov. 1 in the journal Appetite, suggest that the use of such labels could improve public health and reduce the carbon footprint.

“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," said senior study author Dr. Milica Vasiljevic, from Durham’s department of psychology.

"Adding warning labels to meat products could be one way to reduce these risks to health and the environment,” Vasiljevic said in a university news release.

More information

The United Nations has more on food and climate change.

SOURCE: Durham University, news release, Nov. 1, 2023