How food labels can help fight climate change

Empty shelves as retailers remove chicken sandwiches after concerns over a salmonella outbreak (Getty Images)

Empty shelves as retailers remove chicken sandwiches after concerns over a salmonella outbreak (Getty Images)

Climate change labels will convince us to choose more sustainable foods, according to a new study.

Placing a “high climate impact” label on a burger caused 23 percent more people to choose a red meat-free option.

John Hopkins University gave a sample fast food menu to more than 5,000 people and asked them to choose an item for dinner.

One group received a menu that included chicken sandwiches, salads, and fish, with red meat-free options positively labeled as “low climate impact.”

Another had a menu where red meat burgers were negatively labeled as “high climate impact.”

In the menus presented to the third group, all products had QR codes and no climate labels.

High and low climate labels significantly reduced the number of people choosing red meat compared to the control group.

Negative labels describing the “high climate impact” of red meat had the strongest effect, discouraging 23 percent more people from eating red meat.

Menus with “low climate impact” labels led 10 percent more people to choose a chicken sandwich, salad, or fish than the control group.

Lead author Dr Julia Wolfson, associate professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of International Health, said: “These results suggest that menu labeling, particularly labels that indicate that an item has a high climate impact, can be an effective strategy to promote in a fast food environment. more sustainable food options.”

Writing in the JAMA Network Open, he said his findings show that the positive framework of “low climate impact” is less effective than more negative labeling in promoting sustainable food choices.

Participants were asked to choose an item for dinner and then rate how healthy they thought the item was.

Those who chose a more sustainable option perceived their preference as healthier than those who fixed on red meat.

Placing climate information signage on menus is a potential approach to promoting sustainable food choices, such as avoiding red meat.

They added that climate labels can have the unintended side effect of making an election seem healthier than it actually is.

Meat is also the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the food and agriculture sector.

Its consumption is linked to colorectal cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, among other diseases.

The researchers used an index to measure how healthy the food was on a 100-point scale, and 64 and below were considered healthy.

They found that those who used the menu labeled “high climate impact” chose slightly healthier options than the “low climate impact” cohort.

However, none of the items on the menu rated well enough to be optimally healthy.

Dr Wolfson said: “An undeserved halo of health given to unhealthy menu items can encourage their overconsumption, so we must seek ‘win-win’ labeling strategies to promote both more sustainable and healthy choices.”

He plans to do similar work in real-world settings.

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