Pieces of meat in a maturation cabinet in a butcher shop at Mercado de la Paz, a traditional market in Barrio de Salamanca on October 28, 2021 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images)


UK academics want cigarette-style warnings on meat


Researchers at Durham University in the UK have suggested using graphic health warnings on meat, similar to those on tobacco products, in a bid to help reduce consumption and address climate change.

In a study published in the academic journal Appetite, the researchers tested a variety of warnings, including ones related to climate change, health risks and even future pandemics, with the aim of discouraging people from selecting meat-based food.

Based on figures from the Climate Change Committee, an advisory organ for the UK Government, they suggested that if British people reduced meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the country could meet its environmental commitments.

A representative sample of 1,001 meat-eaters was divided into four groups and shown images of hot meals that could be purchased from a cafeteria carrying a pandemic warning label, a health warning label, a climate warning label, or no label at all.

The researchers found that all graphic labels, alongside text, were effective at discouraging consumers from choosing meals with meat.

The warnings reduced the choice of meat-based meals by 7 to 10 per cent when accompanied by an image.

Participants were reportedly most in favour of those carrying climate-warning labels, which they also found the most credible.

One label, featuring a deforested countryside and distant factory smoke, read: “Eating meat contributes to climate change.”

The participants were asked to select meals and to indicate how likely they were to purchase and consume such options in the future. In addition, they were asked how appealing the meals looked and how plausible and anxiety-inducing they thought the labels were.

Jack Hughes, a doctoral student at Durham University’s Department of Psychology, who was part of the study, said: “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.”

Senior author of the paper Dr Milica Vasiljevic, from the same department, said: “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.”

According to a recent YouGov poll, 72 per cent of the UK population classify themselves as meat eaters whereas only 7 per cent regard themselves as either vegetarian or vegan.