Research Seminar

Backfiring labels – negative effects on sustainable and healthy meal choice — Christine Merk

12 Jan 2021


Christine Merk (Kiel Institute)


We find that labels indicating healthy, climate-friendly, or animal-friendly meal options do in the best case not influence meal choice and in the worst case lower purchases of healthy or sustainable dishes significantly. We draw these conclusions from analyzing more than 1.5 million meal purchases in 3 university canteens between 2017 and 2019. The effects are constant over time, indicating that there are neither introduction nor habituation effects. The climate labels are aimed at reducing the consumption of greenhouse-gas intensive ingredients like red meat or cheese, thus highlighting especially vegetarian and vegan choices. Over the study period, the sales’ share of vegetarian and vegan dishes increased in all canteens. This trend is stronger for customers who are students than for customers who are university employees but it has not yet emerged on the broader societal level. To reach the Paris 1.5 degree goal, the greenhouse gas intensity of the average diet would, however, have to decrease substantially by 2050. Animal husbandry is, for example, the source of about 14.5% of global emissions and there are few ways to abate them by technical innovation. Our results cast strong doubts on the effectiveness of the popular policy recommendation to label food products to promote climate-friendly nutrition.

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Amelie Griesoph (Kiel University) – Christine Merk (Kiel Institute) – Thomas Schreiner (Hamburg University) – Stefan Hoffmann (Kiel University) – Katrin Rehdanz (Kiel University) – Ulrich Schmidt (Kiel Institute)


Online Seminar
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