Consumers eat less beef when fast food chains disclose its climate impact

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

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A study from the US has found that customers eat less beef when fast food restaurants disclose the climate impact on their menu items.

Led by researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,  5049 online participants were shown a sample fast food menu and asked to choose a single item for dinner.

 The “low climate impact” labels for vegetarian, chicken, or fish menu items were green. The “high climate impact” labels for all beef burger choices were red. 

Menus with red labels increased non-beef choices by 23 per cent, while those with green brands increased non-beef choices, such as chicken, salad, or fish, by an estimated 10 per cent. 

“These results suggest that menu labelling, particularly labels warning that an item has high climate impact, can be an effective strategy for encouraging more sustainable food choices in a fast food setting,” says lead author, Julia Wolfson, associate professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School.

For the study, the researchers wanted to test how signalling climate change impacts of fast food menu items might prompt people to opt for less red meat. 

Less consumption of red meat could lower CO2 emissions, which would help reduce climate change, as beef production is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the food and agriculture sector.

While encouraging, on the whole, the researchers suggest that positively framed “low climate impact” labels are less effective in encouraging sustainable food choices compared to “high climate impact” labels. At the same time, climate labels may have the unwanted side effect of making a choice seem healthier than it is.

“An undeserved health halo conferred to unhealthy menu items could encourage their overconsumption,” added Wolfson. 

“So we must look for labelling strategies that create ‘win-wins’ for promoting more sustainable and healthy choices.”

Wolfson and her colleagues added they aim to do similar studies in real-world settings in the future.

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.

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