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Beef burger or fish sandwich? Climate labels on menus can encourage people to eat less red meat, study shows


A little more information on restaurant menus could encourage people to choose meals with a lower climate footprint, according to new research. The study found that adding climate impact labels to foods is an effective strategy to reduce red meat consumption.

The food system accounts for one-third of global warming emissions, with beef being the biggest contributor. Still, Americans eat a lot of it, consuming an average of 57 pounds per person per year compared to the global average of 14 pounds.

As the link between food production and the climate crisis becomes clearer, restaurants are increasingly offering vegetarian and vegan options, and some have expressed interest in using climate labels on their food. There is a lack of data on optimal designs to help people make informed choices.

To fill this gap, researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial in which more than 5,000 adults in the United States were asked to imagine themselves at a fast food restaurant, choosing options such as beef, chicken, fish and plants. I asked to choose an item from a menu that had. Base meat substitutes and salads.

Participants were offered one of three menus. Control menu with QR labels next to all items. Forward-framed menu with green labels symbolizing low climate impact next to chicken, fish or vegetarian options. Negatively framed menu with a red label next to the beef menu denoting high climate impact.

The study, published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA, found that climate labels on traffic lights were effective in encouraging people to choose climate-friendly foods, with red warning labels being the most effective. .

Researchers found that people who chose from menus labeled with a high climate impact were 23% more likely to choose a more sustainable diet than those with contrasting menus. People who chose green-labeled menus with a lower climate impact were 10% more likely to choose more sustainable options.

Julia Wolfson, lead author of the study and associate professor of public health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said encouraging people to make small changes in the amount of meat they eat could be a “food system-related climate change.” can have a really measurable impact on reducing Overall change and climate change. ”

For now, climate labels on foods remain relatively rare, and the companies that add them tend to use positive labels that emphasize their low climate impact. Large-scale adoption “might require laws and regulations,” Wolfson said.

However, she added that these may not be the only effective designs. Other future studies may be needed to investigate.”

The study follows research published in 2022 by the World Resources Institute. This study examined people’s reactions to 10 different sustainability messages on a fictional restaurant menu. Some of the messages were particularly successful. “By replacing just one plate of meat with a plant-based meat, you can save greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the energy used to charge your phone for two years.” were twice as likely to choose low-carbon food options. There was no message on that menu.