Cigarette Style Warning Labels Must be Used on Meats Scientists Say

New research has indicated that labelling animal products with cigarette-style warning labels could reduce consumption. Cigarette packets sold around the world feature graphic images and stark warnings to dissuade people from buying them. According to the Durham University study, similar labels could help consumers make informed choices about the dangers the meat industry poses to climate disaster, health, and future pandemics.

The study is published in the journal Appetite. The research, which found meat purchases could be reduced by 7-10 percent, suggested that labels using a graphic image were the most effective. This is similar to cigarette packaging, which shows images of damaged lungs, rotting teeth, and the effects of smoking in the presence of young children.

The subjects of the study were 1001 adults who regularly ate meat, split into four groups. They were each shown pictures of cooked meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan meals in canteen-style, for example burgers and quiche. Each picture contained either a climate warning label, a health warning label, a pandemic label, or no label at all.

The study found that pandemic warnings were the most powerful dissuader, with fears that another animal-originating pandemic could be on the horizon with animal industries still posing huge zoonotic disease risks. These warnings were found to reduce meat choices by 10 percent, followed by health warnings at 8.8 percent, and finally climate warnings at 7.4 percent. However, the team of researchers believe these differences are not statistically worthwhile. Overall, the participants were found to feel the climate warnings were the most credible of the three.

“Reaching net zero is a priority for the nation and the planet,” Jack Hughes, a PhD candidate who led the Durham study, told the Guardian. “As warning labels have already been shown to reduce smoking as well as drinking of sugary drinks and alcohol, using a food warning labels on meat-containing products could help us achieve this if introduced as national policy.”

Meat Consumption in UK at All Time Low

Government data has revealed that the average quantity of meat an average Brit consumed at home was 854g (1.88lbs) a week in the year up to March 2022. This was down from 976g (2.15lbs) the previous year. The cost of living crisis and ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic have been highlighted as reasons for this fall. Changing dietary preferences – such as the growing popularity of plant-based and flexitarian diets – have also contributed.

On average, meat consumption has dropped by 14 percent over the last decade. Red meat has seen the most significant decrease. People are eating 26 percent less beef, lamb, and pork than they did in 2012. Chicken consumption fell by 11 percent in that time period. Fish consumption has also fallen, with people eating an average of 135g (which was down from 148g pre pandemic).

Despite the fact that plant-based diets have a reputation for costing more, a growing number of people are abstaining from meat due to rising costs. Meat prices rose well above the rate of inflation last year, with beef and chicken being particularly impacted. A study published in August 2022 found that 28 percent of Brits were cutting down on meat due to the cost of living crisis. The survey, conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), noted that the average retail price for chicken increased by 12 percent from the preceding year.

Last year, Steve Murrells, chief executive of Co-op, stated that he could foresee people moving towards vegan alternatives if prices continued to rise. While vegan meat analogues can cost more, many vegan protein sources – like beans and legumes – have long been considerably cheaper than meat.

While it was recently revealed that meat consumption has hit an all-time low in the UK, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), who advises the British government on its net zero goals, has made it clear the UK needs to reduce its meat consumption a further 20 percent by 2030, and then 50 percent by 2050, to meet the goals. A recent YouGov poll found that 72 percent of the UK identify as meat-eaters.

“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,” said Hughes.

Agriculture and the Environment

The United Nations has been advocating for significant changes to global food production for several years now, while also recommending individuals change their daily eating habits, shifting to diets richer in plants and plant proteins. Farming produces greenhouse gases in several ways throughout its supply chain. One example is the enormous amount of deforestation to grow the crops and rear the animals. This reduces carbon ‘sinks’, vital to the environment, while also releasing gases previously stored in the soil. Animal agriculture is also responsible for about 90 percent of the world’s water footprint.

In general, more water is needed to produce meat than plant-based foods such as grains or beans. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times that of grain. But not all meat is the same, and the species of livestock and the management type affect the water requirements considerably.

Producing a kilogram of beef takes an average of 15,415 litres of water. The same amount of sheep or goat meat takes almost 9,000 litres, a kilo of pork 6,000 litres, and of chicken 4,300 litres. In all, 92 percent of the global water footprint goes towards agriculture, 29 percent of which is used in animal production. According to another calculation, agriculture uses 70 percent of all available fresh water, three times as much as 50 years ago.

But one beefsteak is not necessarily the same as another. The precise water footprint depends on the production system in which the animal was raised. Was the animal kept on pasture in a mixed system that included crops, or was it in an industrial system with high animal numbers per hectare, in which over 90 percent of the feed is brought in? Just as important are the composition and origin of the feed.

The calculation that a kilogram of steak requires 15,415 litres of water assumes that the animal was slaughtered at three years of age. During its lifetime, it will have eaten 1,300 kilograms of feed concentrate composed of various cereals and soybeans, plus 7,200 kilograms of roughage (grass, hay, silage). It will have drunk 24,000 litres of water. Its housing must also be cleaned and sprayed. But most of the water goes into producing the feed. In making these calculations, we must remember that a cow that has spent its life on a pasture in a humid region will have a relatively large water footprint because the ample rainfall on its pasture is credited to the animal. Plus, it uses its pasture feed fairly inefficiently and takes a long time to reach slaughter weight. This means we should look at the water footprint more closely.


Denmark has become the first country in the world to publish a roadmap to make its food system more plant based. The 40-page plan outlines the government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by boosting plant-based food production.  As well as making Danish dinners greener, it also sets out how the country can become a leader in plant-based food exports.

The plan was described as “internationally groundbreaking” by Rune Christoffer Dragsdahl, the general secretary of the Vegetarian Society of Denmark. Jasmijn De Boo, CEO of ProVeg International, told Plant Based News: “We expect other EU member states to be inspired and emboldened by Denmark’s action and to start drawing up their own Action Plans on plant-based foods. Denmark holds the presidency over the European Council in the latter half of 2025 which will be a great time for member states to aim for publication of their plans.”

The plan contains measures focused on every part of the supply chain from producer to consumer. A key proposal involves giving chefs training on how to prepare more plant-based meals. It also emphasizes the role of research and innovation in helping Danish food companies become leaders in plant-based food production.

Denmark was already leading the way after investing 1.25 billion kroner (USD $177 million) in the sector in 2021. This money helped create a new Fund for Plant-Based Foods, which received 101 applications in the first round. By positioning itself as a global leader, Denmark could bring in 13.5 billion kroner from plant-based food production, according to the plan. This could also create some 27,000 jobs. Moreover, a study from the University of Copenhagen found that by switching to a more climate-friendly food system, Denmark could save 12 billion kroner per year in healthcare costs.

Factory Farms

The vast majority of meat bought in the UK is produced in intensive factory farms. These farms are part of a destructive global system of mass-produced industrial meat and dairy. This system is driven by supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda; as well as fast food chains like KFC, Burger King and McDonald’s. Many of these household names buy from companies owned by JBS – the largest meat processing company in the world. Through its meat production, JBS produces around half the carbon emissions of fossil fuel giants such as Shell or BP, and is driving deforestation in the Amazon.

The industrial meat system requires a huge amount of land to sustain itself. Forests, particularly in South America, are deliberately slashed and burned every year to graze cattle and grow enough crops to feed billions of farmed animals. Industrial meat is the single biggest cause of deforestation globally. In Brazil, farmers are deliberately setting forest fires – like the Amazon rainforest fires you may have seen in the news – to clear space for cattle ranching and to grow industrial animal feed, like soya, for farms back in the UK.

Trees in the Amazon rainforest produce their own rainfall, which keeps the whole forest alive and healthy. If deforestation (for things like industrial meat) continues at the current rate, the Amazon could reach a ‘tipping point’, where it can no longer sustain itself as a rainforest. This would have a devastating impact on the people and animals who live in, or depend on, the forest directly. It could also lead to less rainfall, affecting drinking water and irrigation across large parts of South America; and changes to climate patterns in other parts of the world too.

By clearing forests, destroying habitats and using toxic pesticides to grow animal food, the industrial meat industry is contributing to the extinction of thousands of species, many of which haven’t even been discovered yet. We depend on a healthy environment for our own survival. The huge abundance and variety of the natural world (sometimes called biodiversity) is essential for food, clean water and medicines. The rapid loss of biodiversity, largely driven by industrial farming, could be as big a threat to our existence as climate change.

Companies sometimes argue that industrial meat is an efficient way to produce food, but this ignores its true costs. Over a quarter of the world’s entire land area is used to graze or grow food for farm animals – food that could have been eaten by people in the first place. Just 1kg of chicken meat takes 3.2kg of crops to produce.


If everyone ate a plant-based diet, we’d need 75% less farmland than we use today. That’s an area equivalent to the US, China, Europe and Australia combined. That’s because it takes less land to grow food directly for humans, than to feed animals, which humans then eat. In countries like the UK, we need to be eating 70% less meat and dairy by 2030 to prevent climate breakdown. By eating mostly plant-based food, we could feed more people – with all the calories and nutrition needed for a healthy diet – without destroying forests.

But this isn’t just about people’s individual choices. The government has a huge role to play too, but right now they’re ignoring the huge damage caused by industrial meat and dairy. Join the campaign to put pressure on them to act.