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Far reaching shifts in the global consumption of animal products are crucial to achieving climate change objectives, yet new research into public understanding of the link between eating meat and dairy and climate change reveals a major lack of awareness. Global greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector are estimated to account for 14.5 per cent of the global total.  

In a ground-breaking 12 country survey undertaken by Ipsos MORI, including Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, over twice as many respondents identified exhaust emissions from global transport as a major contributor to climate change, as identified emissions from the production of meat and dairy - 64 per cent vs 29 per cent - even though overall emissions are almost equal between the two. 

'Meat and dairy consumption is set to grow rapidly in the next 40 years and it is unlikely dangerous climate change can be avoided unless consumption falls. Addressing dietary trends has to be part of an international strategy to reduce emissions,' said Rob Bailey, lead author and Research Director, Energy, Environment and Resources. 'Ultimately, as with energy use, consumers need to change their behaviour and this survey shows a substantial lack of awareness of this.'

The survey showed that consumers with a higher level of awareness of the greenhouse gases associated with production were more likely to indicate willingness to reduce their meat and dairy consumption for climate objectives. Therefore, work to close this awareness gap is likely to be an important precondition for behaviour change.  

Encouragingly, with much of the projected increase in meat and dairy consumption expected in emerging economies, respondents in Brazil, India and China demonstrated greater consideration of climate change in their food choices, and a greater willingness to modify their consumption than the average of the countries assessed. However, with consumption per head of population much higher in developed countries, lower levels of awareness in countries like the US highlight the extent of the challenge. 

While governments and environmental groups have, so far, been reluctant to pursue policies or campaigns to encourage people to eat less meat and dairy due to a variety of factors, not least fear of backlash for intruding on people’s lifestyle choices, their assumptions are untested and evidence from the research suggests potential public receptivity.

Editor's notes: 

Read Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption by Rob Bailey, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley      

Embargoed until 2 December 23:59 GMT

The survey is part of a project being undertaken in conjunction with the Glasgow Media Group, focusing on public awareness and understanding on livestock and climate change in China, Brazil, the UK and the US. The project’s findings are expected to be published mid-2015, and is funded by the Avatar Alliance Foundation, Susan and Craig McCaw Foundation, and Heidi Bassett Blair and Chris Blair. 

The current survey has been conducted in 12 countries in total: Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, the UK and the US via a mixture between Ipsos internal online panels and external suppliers, as follows:

  • The surveys in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, the UK and the US were conducted via Ipsos Interactive Services online panels
  • The surveys in China, India, Japan and South Africa were conducted via external suppliers

We surveyed just over 1,000 adults in each country between 26 September and 10 October (see below). The age range of the sample surveyed in each nation varied depending on levels of internet penetration, but in all cases the sample consisted of adults between the ages of 18 and 65. 

The use of online panellists means that in some cases the respondents are likely to be representative of more affluent, connected populations. Data has, though, been weighted to the known national populations. The data has been weighted by age and gender in all countries; in addition to these, it has also been weighted by region in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, the UK and the US. 

At the aggregate level each country has been given equal weight regardless of population size relative to others – meaning that Russia’s 1,000 responses count for the same as Poland’s 1000 despite its population being considerably larger. 

As with all surveys, our findings are estimates, and subject to sampling tolerances.

The survey questions were asked in English in India, South Africa, the UK and the US – slight linguistic adaptations were made to each country. The survey questions were translated from English into the main languages used in non-English speaking countries – all translations were verified by an independent translation agency.

For the purposes of analysis, we have grouped countries into categories, as follows:

  • BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India, China 
  • EU: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the UK

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