Do Consumers Connect Climate Change With Industrial Meat?
It is well-known that animal agriculture is responsible for at least 14.5% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, even if we removed all other climate emissions, the emissions from food alone would make it difficult to keep the global temperature increase between 1.5 to 2 degrees higher by 2100. This is because of factors like deforestation, fertilizer use, and raising animals for food.
According to scientists, it is necessary to reduce the consumption of animal products to meet worldwide climate targets. But do people understand the relationship between the animal products they eat and how it affects the environment? Furthermore, how well does the media explain this connection?
This poll of 7,500 adults in Brazil, France, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. asked participants to weigh in about their diet and their understanding of industrial meat farming and climate change issues. These countries were chosen since they represent some of the world’s largest producers of industrial meat. The authors also looked at media coverage of climate change in the U.S., U.K., E.U., and internationally to see how often animal agriculture was mentioned as a contributor.
A third of people said they don’t want to reduce their meat consumption because they believe meat is necessary for health. Financial security and personal health were seen as more important than the environment and animals. But taste and “naturalness” were the most common reasons for avoiding alternative proteins. In Brazil, 30% of people said they couldn’t switch to alternative proteins because they didn’t know where to buy them.
In most countries, a majority of adults didn’t know anything about industrial meat production. This was true for all countries except Brazil. When given a definition of “industrial meat,” more than 70% of people in all countries were at least somewhat concerned about its effects on animals, people, and the environment.
Furthermore, less than 7% of people in all countries believed that industrial meat is the biggest contributor to global warming. People mostly blamed fossil fuels and deforestation. Of all the causes listed, only energy-inefficient buildings were ranked lower than industrial meat. However, the report only asked what people thought was the “biggest contributor,” so it might be that people consider industrial meat a big contributor, just not the biggest.
Regarding the media articles that the authors analyzed about climate change, only 0.5% mentioned animal agriculture. In these articles, meat companies and governments were mostly blamed for bad climate effects. The suggested solutions also relied on the government, including more regulation and more access to meat alternatives. Individual dietary change was the next most-suggested solution.
Based on what consumers feel is important, it appears that animal advocates need to continue highlighting the health benefits of vegan diets and fighting false claims that animal products are necessary for health. However, respondents from Brazil expressed that they weren’t sure where to access alternative proteins. As a result, we also need to focus on providing equitable access to healthy plant-based options.
The results also suggest that consumers are still not very aware of the climate effects of industrial farming. However, the concern about deforestation that came through in the poll results is encouraging for animal advocates. We should continue to highlight the connection between animal agriculture and deforestation, as well as other climate impacts.
Finally, it appears that the media may be failing in its duty to inform people about the climate effects of animal agriculture. This is concerning, because media coverage can be effective at promoting positive dietary change. As a result, when communicating with journalists, it’s important to emphasize the environmental harms of consuming animal products — and the fact that the public cares about these issues when properly informed.