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Can ‘cigarette-style’ labels effectively reduce meat consumption?

Can 'cigarette-style' labels effectively reduce meat consumption? climate change, Health and nutritional ingredients, Health Warning, Healthy foods, Market Trends, meat, Meat consumption, pandemic, Sustainability Food and Beverage Business

The study, published in the journal Appetite​, evaluated the impact of warning labels, including images calculated for maximum emotional impact, on whether or not respondents would choose a meal containing meat, as well as willingness to eat, buy and recommend the meal, their emotional response to the labels, and whether they would support a policy to include them on meat products.

Previous warning labels focused on negative health effects of products, such as cigarettes and alcohol, have shown high levels of success in the past. However, one previous study testing the effect of labels warning on the potential climate impact of food found that the difference made by the warning was negligible. On the other hand, this was a purely text-based warning.

The present study aimed to use the previous success of health warnings to determine whether similar warnings on meat products would work in reducing meat consumption. Researchers used three different warnings: that the product could cause negative health effects, that it was linked to climate change, and that it was linked to potential pandemics. Unlike in the case of the previous study on climate warning labels, the researchers paired their text warnings with images, chosen in a pilot study, that were intended to evoke strong emotions in participants. The images were vetted by behavioural science experts.

To test the effectiveness of the warning labels, researchers recruited 1001 participants from the UK, representative of the demographics of the country in terms of age and gender but all meat-eaters. Each participant was asked to choose between twenty sets of meals, each one with a meat version, a fish version, a vegetarian version and a vegan version. Additionally, participants were shown an image of a burger with their relevant warning label. After evaluating the results, all of the labels did as the researchers had predicted and reduced the amount of times the meat option was chosen in all cases compared to the control group. However, while participants opposed introducing policy to implement the use of pandemic labels and health labels on meat products, they were neutral regarding climate labels.

“Pandemic labels triggered the greatest level of negative emotional response, possibly, in conjunction with memories associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which at the time of the study was very recent. Nevertheless, pandemic labels were considered the least credible out of the warning labels, contrary to previous studies on tobacco health warning labels where a direct correlation between credibility and negative emotional response was found.”

“​The research suggests that if these labels were to be used on commercially available products, they might be effective at reducing meat meal choices. However, the decision about whether to introduce these labels depends on government, policy makers, and businesses.”

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