Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Warning labels could reduce appetite for red meat

Study provides insights into the effects of warning labels and taxes on red meat purchases.

Introduction of warning labels and taxes on red meat could influence consumer behaviour, potentially leading to a reduction in purchases, research shows.

These findings have implications for addressing climate change and promoting public health by encouraging individuals to make more sustainable, health-conscious dietary choices, researchers say.

The research used a simulated online grocery shopping experience to assess whether warning labels or tax increase could influence consumer buying behaviour regarding red meat.

Policymakers may consider these results, from a study conducted in the United States by the University of North Carolina in collaboration with Stanford University and the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems, when crafting initiatives to address the environmental and health consequences of meat consumption.

Effective intervention

In their experiment involving over 5,500 American adults who reported eating meat at least once a week, the research team introduced either warning labels akin to those found on cigarette packaging, a 30 per cent tax increase, or both, to some of the participants’ online shopping experiences.

Results show a significant decrease in red meat purchases from participants who saw the warning labels or the tax increase.

Combining warning labels and a tax increase was the most effective way to reduce purchases of red meat, which has been associated with health concerns linked to overconsumption of saturated fat and to a relatively large carbon footprint.

These findings show that implementing health and environmental warning labels and taxes could reduce red meat purchases in the United States, ultimately providing health and environmental benefits, the team suggests.

This research was published in PLOS Medicine and funded by Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health.

Warning labels and taxes have been shown to work for reducing purchases of products like cigarettes, alcohol, and sugary drinks. Our study suggests that similar policies could also work for red meat, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the US.

Professor Lindsay Jaacks, Personal Chair of Global Health and Nutrition, The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Our study found that policies like warning labels and taxes not only reduced red meat, they improved the nutrient profile of purchases. These results suggest that such policies, if implemented in the US, could yield important benefits both for the environment and for public health. 

Dr Lindsey Smith Taillie, Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina

Related links

Research publication