• The consumption of animal proteins has a large impact on the environment and climate and transition to the consumption of more plant proteins instead would be great for the environment.
  • Most people don’t know that meat protein has a large impact on the environment and if they do they greatly underestimate the impact.
  • People are not very willing to consume meat protein substitutes, though culture, familiarity, gender and knowledge all influence this.

Take Home Message

To facilitate positive diet shifts away from meat-protein it will be important to increase consumer awareness of the environmental impacts of meat and build consumer familiarity with plant-based alternatives.

Paper's Stats

Animal Status

No animals were harmed for this research.

Block of tofu with veggiesThe consumption of meat-based protein has a big impact on the environment and climate. This is because it takes more environmental resources, such as land and water, to produce meat-based protein compared with the production of plant-based proteins. In order to reduce environmental impacts it will be necessary for people to replace their consumption of meat protein with plant protein.

With this in mind, Christina Hartmann and Michael Siegrist wanted to learn what consumers know about the environmental impacts of meat-based protein and their willingness to consume more sustainable alternatives.

To do this they searched through 929 different studies and kept 33 that investigated the issue. They then pulled lots of information from the studies to see what we already know. While the results aren’t surprising they aren’t particularly inspiring.

Do consumers know that meat consumption has a large environmental impact?

The short answer is most don’t.

The majority of people that participated in the various studies did not know about the negative impacts that meat-based protein has on the environment and climate. Across four studies awareness ranged from 18%-38%.

In two other studies 58% and 65% of participants agreed that meat-protein had a negative impact on the environment, but they had been given information at the beginning of the research about the topic. This increase may be caused by the participants wanting to be seen in a good light by the researchers (social desirability bias).

Will consumers reduce meat consumption or substitute meat with an alternative?

This varied a lot between studies and again was higher when participants were given information about the topic before answering the question (NOTE: for a fun night read a bunch of behavioural/attitudinal studies and drink every time you come across the problem with social desirability bias #NerdDrinkingGames).

Males and people with positive attitudes towards meat were less likely to consider reducing their consumption or substitute meat with an alternative. In contrast, those with knowledge of sustainable food choices were more willing to eat less meat.

Will consumers accept meat substitute and alternative proteins, such as cultured meat?

Apparently familiarity with meat substitutes is really important for eventual acceptance. While people may not like tofu as much as animal flesh to begin with, after about 10 meals that included tofu they rated that they liked it as much as chicken flesh (poor chickens :-(). Also, people who already bought meat substitutes were more positive about having meatless meals in the future.

In regards to the acceptance of cultured meat there isn’t a lot of information. The two studies they looked at suggested that acceptance was low but this could be because at the time the research was conducted it was not a commercially viable product. So there was probably a ‘this is weird’ factor.

Overall this systematic review clearly highlights what we already knew and points to some opportunities to effect change. It seems like creating familiarity around meat substitutes and alternatives could be a positive approach. It also probably worth spending time sharing the environmental and climate impacts with the wider community. Which won’t necessarily get people to go vegan but it may help increase awareness about the impact people’s food choices and help them make more sustainable choices.

I would love to hear what strategies you think could be used to increase awareness of environmental impact of meat-protein, or how to increase peoples familiarity with meat substitutes and alternatives. Let me know below and try thinking outside the box!

Title: Consumer perception and behaviour regarding sustainable protein consumption: A systematic review

Authors: Christina Hartmann and Michael Siegrist

Journal: Trends in Food Science & Technology

Date PublishedJanuary 5, 2017


Paper Access

Behind paywall

Research Type

Peer-reviewed research