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Climate impact labels impacts food selection


Baltimore – A new study has found putting climate impact labels on fast food menus influenced people’s food choice in favour of climate-friendly items.

The study was led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, US.

More than 5000 online participants were shown a sample menu resembling a fast food menu and asked to choose a single item for dinner.

One group of participants received a menu with non-red meat menu items such as chicken sandwiches labelled low climate impact. Another group received a menu with red meat items — burgers — labelled high climate impact. A third group received menus with QR codes on all items and no climate labels.

Both the high and low climate impact labels markedly reduced red meat selections compared to the control group, with the high impact labels having a strong effect.

Menus with a high climate impact label on burgers increased non-beef choices by 23 percent compared to the control group.

Menus that included low climate impact labels increased non-beef choices, such as a chicken sandwich or a salad, by about 10 percent more participants than those in the control group.

The results suggest that menu labelling, particularly labels warning an item has high climate impact, can be an effective strategy for encouraging more sustainable food choices.

Using labels on menus has long been seen as a potential approach for promoting healthful and sustainable food options.

For their 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.

Red meat consumption has been linked to health problems such as colorectal cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses.

Less consumption of red meat also would also help to lower greenhouse gas emissions which would help reduce climate change because beef production is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the food and agriculture sector.

While encouraging on the whole, the results 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 actually is.