Food Labels Might Curtail Climate Impact of U.S. Fast Food Restaurants

JAMA Network Open published new research that described the crucial role climate impact labels might play in boosting U.S. consumers' food choices.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jan. 18, 2023 17:13 UTC

New research inves­ti­gated how American con­sumers react to cli­mate-related food labels in fast food restau­rants. The authors found that such labels affect con­sumer choices, which tend to become more sus­tain­able.

See Also:Biden Administration Plans Overhaul of Nutrition Labeling

In a paper released by JAMA Network Open, researchers from sev­eral aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions tracked and com­pared the behav­ior of three dif­fer­ent groups of con­sumers when offered var­i­ous food orders.

The first group was exposed to labels rat­ing the high cli­mate impact of the food options (neg­a­tive labels). The sec­ond group had to choose foods with labels indi­cat­ing lower envi­ron­men­tal impact (pos­i­tive labels). The third con­trol group was not exposed to any spe­cific label­ing.

The ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal trial involved 5049 U.S. adults. The results showed that par­tic­i­pants in the neg­a­tive label group chose a sus­tain­able option, such as avoid­ing red meat, 23 per­cent more often than the con­trol group. In the pos­i­tive label group, par­tic­i­pants chose a sus­tain­able option only 10 per­cent more often than the con­trol group.

Interestingly, par­tic­i­pants who ordered the more sus­tain­able option clas­si­fied their food as health­ier than the unsus­tain­able option.

The research found that cli­mate impact labels might sig­nif­i­cantly reduce red meat selec­tions on a fast food menu. The researchers’ find­ings show how cli­mate-impact menu labels might pro­mote more sus­tain­able food choices in American fast-food restau­rants.

Such find­ings come on the heels of a global debate about food sus­tain­abil­ity and labels. Climate change’s incom­pa­ra­ble impact on global food pro­duc­tion and secu­rity has trig­gered this debate in recent years.

In Europe, researchers have backed pro­pos­als to add cli­mate-related labels to food in restau­rants and on retail­ers’ shelves.

A few months ago, the German sci­en­tific advi­sory board on agri­cul­tural pol­icy, food and con­sumer health pro­tec­tion (WBAE) requested that food labels show con­sumers the green­house gas emis­sions of cer­tain foods.

The Planet-Score label has been pre­sented in France to reveal the envi­ron­men­tal impact of food to con­sumers. The label, under eval­u­a­tion by the French gov­ern­ment, is backed by sev­eral of the country’s research insti­tu­tions.

Olive oil has also been fea­tured in many coun­tries’ debates about food sus­tain­abil­ity. It is among the health­i­est cook­ing fats and is often con­sid­ered one of the most sus­tain­able foods.

Olive oil’s rep­u­ta­tion for sus­tain­abil­ity comes from olive orchards’ car­bon diox­ide-seques­ter­ing qual­i­ties. New clean har­vest­ing meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies that reuse most or all olive byprod­ucts fur­ther boost the sus­tain­abil­ity of the food prod­uct.


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