Meat-Eating And The Environment: What Do Consumers Think?
Meat consumption is a major contributor to environmental degradation. Production of meat leads to contamination of water sources, loss of biodiversity, and is a leading contributor to climate change. Despite these realities, global demand for meat is increasing due to a number of factors, including rising incomes and a growing population in countries around the world. As increasing demand yields increasing environmental impacts, the state of meat consumption has become a food security issue, a public health issue, and an environmental issue.
There are a number of factors contributing to personal dietary choices, including taste preferences, culinary traditions, and social norms, and changing consumer dietary habits is challenging. The authors of this study aimed to understand three questions related to meat consumption:
- Are people aware of the environmental impact of meat production and consumption?
- Are people willing to stop or reduce meat consumption based on environmental concerns?
- Have ecological / environmental concerns been the motivation for people who have altered their meat consumption?
To do this, they performed a systematic review of 34 quantitatively-focused peer-reviewed articles and government reports, each of which provided empirical evidence related to at least one of their three questions. All articles and reports focused on industrialized Western populations.
14 studies had data pertaining to whether people are aware of the environmental impact of meat production and consumption. Across studies, the authors found that approximately 25% to 35% of people were aware of the environmental impact of meat. Approximately 18% to 29% of people believed that meat consumption reduction is an effective way to help the environment, but overall, reducing meat consumption was considered to be the least or second-least effective way to help the environment when compared to other options. Women were more likely than men to recognize that meat consumption has negative environmental impacts.
16 studies had data pertaining to whether people are willing to stop or reduce meat consumption based on environmental concerns. Across studies, the authors found that approximately 13% to 26% of people were willing to stop or reduce meat consumption based on environmental concerns. Reducing meat intake was usually the least chosen option to curb climate change when compared to others. When presented with evidence showing the negative environmental impacts of meat consumption, approximately 5% to 18% of people were “certainly willing” to reduce their consumption, while approximately 41% were “maybe willing.” Women were more willing than men to stop or reduce meat consumption based on environmental concerns, and willingness varied widely with ethnicity and culture.
17 studies had data pertaining to whether ecological / environmental concerns have been the motivation for people who have altered their meat intake. Across studies, the authors found that approximately 3% of vegans / vegetarians had been motivated by ecological / environmental concerns, while more broadly, approximately 4% to 19% of people who reduced or limited their meat consumption cited ecological / environmental concerns as their motive. Women were more likely to cite ecological / environmental concerns as a motivator, and younger people were more likely to do so than older people.
The summary of findings reveals that in Western industrialized countries, those who are aware of the environmental impact of meat, as well as those who are willing to stop or reduce consumption based on environmental concerns, constitute small minorities of the general population. Those who are motivated to alter their meat consumption based on ecological / environmental concerns even constitute a small minority of vegans / vegetarians / semi-vegetarians.
The authors state that spreading information on the environmental impact of meat production could be a promising strategy to affect dietary change, but they also note that the way information is framed could affect the results because the framing will often tacitly presume that humans are separable from the environment instead of a part of it. However, further studies will be needed to determine this effect, especially studies looking at more diverse populations and studies looking at a more emotional framing of the environmental impact.