Burger and Fries

Are you looking for a beef burger or fish sandwich Study shows that these menu labels encourage people not to eat as much red meat?

According to a recent study, providing more information about restaurant menus could encourage consumers to choose meals that have a lower carbon footprint.

One-third of the planet’s warming emissions can be attributed to our food system, with beef being the most significant. But Americans consume a lot of it. They consume an average of 57 lbs per person per year. This compares to the global average of just 14 lbs.

Restaurants are adding more vegetarian and vegan options as the links between food production, climate change, and food safety become more apparent. Some restaurants even signal interest in using climate labels on food items. There is not enough data to inform customers about the best design.

Researchers conducted random clinical trials to fill this gap. They asked more than 5,000 Americans to picture themselves in a fast-food restaurant and choose a dish from a variety of meats, including chicken, fish, and plant-based substitutes.

Participants were presented with one of three menu options: a control menu that included QR labels next to all items, a positively framed Menu with green labels to signify low climate impact next to chicken, fish, or vegetarian options, and a negatively-framed Menu with red labels to indicate a high climate effect next to beef items.

The study was published in JAMA on Tuesday. It found that traffic-light labels with climate labels are effective in encouraging people to choose more climate-friendly foods. However, the most effective warning labels were the red ones.

Researchers found that people who chose menus with high climate impact labels were 23% more likely to choose a more sustainable option. People who chose from menus that had low-climate impact labels were 10% more likely than those who chose a less sustainable option.

Julia Wolfson, who was the study’s main author and is an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Baltimore, stated that encouraging people to eat less meat “can have measurable effects on reducing food system related climate change and overall climate change.”

Currently, climate labeling of food products is very rare. Those companies that do include them use positive labels to highlight the low impact on climate change. Wolfson stated that legislation or regulation might be required for warning labels to be widely adopted.

She added that these designs may not be the best. “Other future research may be necessary to explore other design options that might have a greater impact while still using the positively framed label.”

This study is based on research by the World Resources Institute published in 2022. It examined how people responded to 10 sustainability messages placed on a hypothetical menu. Some messages were particularly popular. The message that “swapping one meat dish for one made from plants saves greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the energy used for charging your phone for two years” was twice as popular as the message on the menu.

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