New research by academics at Durham University, UK, found that warning labels including a graphic image similar to those warning of impotence, heart disease or lung cancer on cigarette packets could reduce selections of meals containing meat by 7-10%.

The study is titled “Impact of pictorial warning labels on meat meal selection: A randomised experimental study with UK meat consumers”, and it was published in the journal Appetite in November 2023.

Researchers split 1,001 meat-eating adults into four groups and showed each group pictures of hot meat, fish, vegetarian, and vegan canteen-style meals with either a health warning label, a climate warning label, a pandemic warning label, or no label at all. Pandemic warnings proved the most effective at dissuading participants from eating the meat options, with a 10% reduction of choice.  The next more effective warning was a health warning, with an 8.8% reduction, followed by a climate warning at 7.4%.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), which advises the government on its carbon net zero goals, has said the UK needs to reduce the meat consumption of its residents by 20% by 2030, and 50% by 2050. Although, disappointingly, they did not say that the best way to achieve this would be to promote veganism and stop subsidising animal agriculture, as this is something the government, or any of the main political parties, are not prepared to do, perhaps finding ways to make meat consumers feel bad may be a viable alternative.

Jack Hughes, PhD candidate who led the Durham study, said to the Guardian, “When you combine that [CCC advice] with the fact that high meat intake is linked to lots of health issues, and the way that we currently farm, or certainly some of the most common ways of farming, are also very heavily linked to the potential of pandemic outbreaks, it becomes clear that there are multiple reasons why the current way that we eat meat is maybe not the best way to do it.” However, it seems those commenting on this research keep forgetting that one of the main reasons people stopped smoking was the smoking bans in public places, so banning animal products from public catering should be the next logical step to complement an advertising strategy like this one (something that some universities have begun to consider).  

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.