News Release

Cigarette style warning labels could reduce people’s meat consumption

Embargoed until 00.01 hours GMT on Wednesday 1 November 2023

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Durham University

Cigarette style graphic warning labels could reduce people’s meat consumption, according to new research published today (1 November).

The study suggests the use of warning labels on meat options could improve public health and reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.

The team from Durham University tested a range of warning labels including those which warn people of the damage to climate, health, and risk of pandemics. They found that all labels were effective at discouraging people from choosing meals with meat.

All warning labels, which showed a graphic image alongside text, reduced meat meal selections by seven to 10 percent. However, participants were most in favour of the climate warning labels which they also found the most credible.

The study is published in the academic journal, Appetite.

According to a recent YouGov poll, 72 per cent of the UK population classify themselves as meat eaters. The independent Climate Change Committee, which advises the UK government, recommends a 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030.

Jack Hughes carried out the research with his supervisors as part of his PhD research at the Department of Psychology at Durham University. He said: “Reaching net zero is a priority for the nation and the planet. As warning labels have already been shown to reduce smoking as well as drinking of sugary drinks and alcohol, using a warning label on meat-containing products could help us achieve this if introduced as national policy.”

A representative sample of 1,001 meat-eating adults were split into four groups which were shown pictures of hot meals you might buy in a canteen which contained either a health warning label, climate warning label, pandemic warning label, or no label.

They were asked to make 20 separate decisions on different meal choices and the team also asked how anxiety provoking and believable they found the labels. Future intentions to buy and eat the meal options, as well as how appealing the meals appeared, was measured. Participants also indicated how supportive they would be of the different labels if they were implemented as policy.

An example set of meals could be a meat pasta bake, fish pasta bake, vegetarian pasta bake and a vegan pasta bake.

Senior author on the paper, Dr Milica Vasiljevic from Durham University’s Department of Psychology said: “We already know that eating a lot of meat, especially red and processed meat, is bad for your health and that it contributes to deaths from pollution and climate change. Adding warning labels to meat products could be one way to reduce these risks to health and the environment.”




Jack Hughes, PhD student in the Department of Psychology at Durham University, is available for interviews.

For requests, please contact Durham University’s Marketing and Communications Office on or +44(0)191 334 8623. 


There are three versions of the climate warning label image available to download from Dropbox:

  • The climate warning label showing an image of a deforested area with factory smoke in the distance and the warning text - WARNING: Eating meat contributes to climate change (UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2020).
  • The climate warning label on a small flag sticking in a burger.
  • The climate warning label alongside a picture of a burger.

All images are similar to those used in the study.

Research paper

Impact of pictorial warning labels on meat meal selection: A randomised experimental study with UK meat consumers, by Jack Hughes, Mario Weick, and Milica Vasiljevic, Durham University. Published in Appetite, 1 November 2023.

A copy of the embargoed paper is available on request from

About Durham University

Durham University is a globally outstanding centre of teaching and research based in historic Durham City in the UK.

We are a collegiate university committed to inspiring our people to do outstanding things at Durham and in the world.

We conduct research that improves lives globally and we are ranked as a world top 100 university with an international reputation in research and education (QS World University Rankings 2024).

We are a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive UK universities and we are consistently ranked as a top 10 university in national league tables (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, Guardian University Guide and The Complete University Guide).

For more information about Durham University visit:

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