PARIS, Jan 2 — Will 2023 be the year many of us banish red meat from our diets? A recent US study shows that information about a product’s environmental impact can deter consumers from choosing carbon-rich foods.

According to a study published in the journal Jama Network Open, carbon footprint labels associated with products such as red meat have the potential to be an effective way to encourage people to reduce their purchases of planet-polluting foods.

The study involved a nationally representative sample of 5,049 US adults who were asked to select from fast food menus a food item they would like to order for dinner.

Participants were randomly assigned to several groups (including a control group). Some were given menus with green labels indicating low-climate-impact dishes (eg, chicken, fish, or vegetarian dishes), and others were given menus with red labels, which indicated high-climate-impact foods (in particular featuring red meat).

Advertisement

Menus with a green label featured the message: “This item is environmentally sustainable. It has low greenhouse gas emissions and a low contribution to climate change.”

Menus with a red label read: “This item is not environmentally sustainable. It has high greenhouse gas emissions and a high contribution to climate change.”

Negative message more powerful?

Advertisement

Compared to participants in the control group, 23.5 per cent more participants selected a sustainable food when meals displayed high climate impact labels and 9.9 per cent more participants selected a sustainable food when they appeared on menus with a green label.

The study authors, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Harvard Universities, noted that telling people that a type of food had a negative impact on the environment was more effective than informing them that a food was a more sustainable choice.

For example, they found that red meat products with red labels were more likely to prompt participants to make sustainable choices, compared to foods with green labels.

Less red meat, less pollution

“In the United States, meat consumption, red meat consumption in particular, consistently exceeds recommended levels based on national dietary guidelines.

Shifting current dietary patterns toward more sustainable diets with lower amounts of red meat consumed could reduce diet-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 55 per cent,” the researchers outlined.

Last April, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended that world leaders (especially those of developed countries) foster a transition to sustainable, healthy, low-emission diets. — ETX Studio