Research: “High levels of meat consumption is a major societal problem” — New Significant Data Shows That News Coverage of the Issue Strongly Influences Consumers to “Reduce” or “Eliminate” Meat.
New research indicates that more news reporting and communication on the environmental and health issues associated with meat production, could reduce overall consumption on average by 6.5%. Since 18% of Global Climate Emissions are a direct result of meat production, this can have a significant beneficial effect.  In addition “Factory farming is responsible for 37% of all methane emissions “which has 20 times the global warming potential of CO2.” Meat farming also uses 23 times as much land to raise meat as to farm vegetables. It is estimated that 45% of all arable land wordwide will be used for meat farming.
“These findings suggest that the effect of reading a news article can be sustained for several weeks, which is quite remarkable,” said Bobbie Macdonald, the lead researcher of the study and co-founder of the Animal Welfare Action Lab (AWAL). “And one serving per month might seem like a small effect, but that’s equal to a 6.5% reduction in total meat servings.” 
The study was released under the auspices of The Reducetarian Movement.
Download the Reducetarian Study 2016>>
Social Factors: Personal Preference Versus Environmental Impact
The case for reducing or eliminating meat from our personal diets must come face-to-face with modern society’s long-term meat habit, and our subsequent attachment for “taste pleasures.” This is despite continuing and devastating data indicating the environmental impact of meat-factory farming, and the health issues associated with excessive meat consumption. (For more on the environmental impact, please refer to “Devastating Environmental Impact of Meat Industry”>>)
From a Buddhist point of view we also have to face three additional compelling arguments to reduce or eliminate our habit of meat: conclusive evidence that animals are sentient and feel emotions (see our previous story on Animal Sentience>>); the ideal of Buddhist compassion for all beings; and the vow to not kill sentient beings. Unlike some other spiritual paths, Buddha encouraged us to refrain from taking any sentient life, not just humans.
Context: Meat Industry Impact on Environment
Putting aside compassion, as many people tend to do, the issue is an urgent one due to the well-studied impact meat factory farming has on the environment. In a previous story, well supported by cited research, we reported:
“The meat industry is one of the largest emissions contributors, producing more emissions than all the automobiles and planes put together. This issue will only be exacerbated by the expected growth of our population 4 billion. As a practical consideration, putting aside environment, ethics and all, there is not enough land to produce that much meat. It’s worth remembering that developing nations are quickly becoming advanced nations, increasing demand for meat.”
Then, including the compassion issue, which is in some ways more pressing for Buddhists: “Over 56 billion farmed animals are killed each year by humans — 10 billion land animals in the U.S. alone. 3,000 die each second. This does not include countless fish. Billions of animals suffer and die painfully — animals who, according to scientists, are sentient and feel emotions. Put another way, each person who eats meat, is directly responsible for the lives of an average of 95 slaughtered animals each year.” More here>>
What to Do About It?
The bigger question has always been “what to do about it.” On a personal level, we can contemplate death and suffering, encourage compassion, and discipline ourselves to overcome our attachment for meat. But on a societal level, we can’t legislate this form of compassion. Which leaves us with education.
Compelling new research indicates that communication will make the difference, especially — as measured in a recent and unique study — if conveyed in news stories. The study of more than 2,237 participants, tracked their meat consumption after being exposed to two separate news stories covering the unsustainability of “today’s animal agriculture system”.
The first story leads with “You can’t help feeling that eating less meat is becoming unavoidably mainstream…” and the other with “You can’t help feeling the eliminating meat is becoming unavoidably mainstream…” Both news stories present facts on cardiac health, the devastating effects of meat factory farming on the environment, and also point out the “wretched conditions on factory farms.” The compassion element is illustrated with a picture of a female pig who must live out her life — prior to slaughter — in a tiny gestation crate that does not even allow her to turn around. (For the full news story content, please see later in this feature and inset screen grabs.)
News Media Does Influence Meat Consumption
The findings do clearly indicate that when these facts are presented to meat-eaters via a credible news source, the information influenced their eating habits for the following five weeks (as tracked in the study.)
6.5% Reduction Significant
If only half of the world’s population reduced meat consumption by 6.5%, this could theoretically slow down the consumption of meat — remembering that the population is growing — to a level that could be somewhat sustainable. Based on World Bank Scientists data, which calculates that meat farming (with all associated factors) contributes to 51% of Global Climate Emissions, a 6.5% reduction amongst 50% of the population represents a 3.25% improvement.
Of course, the beneficial impact of vegetarianism is higher. In a previous article we cited data that suggests that “if only 25% of the world’s population converted to vegetarianism, the impact on the environment would be staggering. That’s a fact, not even arguable.”
Why We Should Believe This Research
The data supporting the benefits of communication on reduction and elimination is compelling by virtue of the sample size, which is significant, and the level of detail and feedback collected. Interestingly, ” the reduce and eliminate news articles performed the same – one did not do better than the other,” according to the study.
Clearly, no one is advocating for artificial news stories. The stated goal was to measure the impact of communication (in particular via credible new source) on the meat eating habit. An unstated but worthy goal was likely to encourage more coverage of these important issues. Since the study was commissioned by The Reducetarian Foundation.
Summary of Findings
The top-level findings were:
- Reading the “reduce and eliminate” articles caused participants to reduce their meat consumption by about one serving per month. Chicken, pork, and fish were reduced the most, however these product-specific effects were not statistically significant. (Note: the reduce and eliminate news articles performed the same – one did not do better than the other.)
- The reduce and eliminate news articles caused changes in all of the measured attitudes. Readers were:
- More likely to agree that purchasing animal products contributes to animal suffering
- More likely to disagree that animals raised for food have a good standard of living
- More likely to agree that raising animals for food contributes to environmental degradation.
- More likely to agree that people would be healthier if they ate less meat.
Interestingly, the participants actions in the five weeks following their reads of the variant news stories, were
- More likely to perceive that Americans in general are reducing their meat consumption
- Had more discussions with friends and family about meat consumption and the treatment of animals raised for food
- There were no differences in how men and women responded to the articles
- There were no differences in how young and old participants reacted to the articles (participants ranged in age from 18 to 87)
NEWS STORY CONTENT USED IN STUDY
The following verbatim sample was the “reduce” version. The other half of the study were given a nearly identical story replacing “reduce” with “eliminate meat.”
Headline: Rise of people pledging to become “reducetarian”
Latest campaign encourages people to go “reducetarian” with respect to their own diets
You can’t help feeling that eating less meat is becoming unavoidably mainstream, with more and more people choosing to become “reducetarians” by reducing their consumption of red meat, poultry, and seafood without cutting these products out of their diets entirely. Recent research from data analysts at Mintel has shown that one in eight adults in the US are eating less meat, including up to one in five young adults. In the US, over six million people have reduced their meat intake, and that number is rising.
To learn more, I reached out to Jack Thompson, host of a Future of Food talk entitled “Why I’m a Reducetarian” and the founder of a new campaign to encourage Americans to reduce their meat intake. A 25-year-old New Yorker who grew up eating a standard American diet, Thompson shared his thoughts with me on why he’s urging people to join the movement and pledge to become reducetarian.
“Some people feel that eating meat is an ‘all-or-nothing’ choice: you either stop eating meat entirely or continue eating it as usual,” said Thompson. “Our campaign encourages people to take the middle road and go ‘reducetarian’ by reducing their meat consumption without entirely cutting it out of their diets.”
So take the pledge to live a reducetarian lifestyle and make yourself, your cardiologist, and a whole lot of farm animals very happy,” Thompson added. “Some people think that changing their diet is difficult, but the truth is that there are so many alternatives to meat available today that it’s never been easier to eat less of it.”
According to Thompson, the unsustainability of today’s animal agriculture system is what inspired him to create the reducetarianism campaign. “For one thing, our passion for meat has an enormous negative impact on the environment. Of the 40% of the earth’s surface used for agriculture, a whopping third is used just to grow animal (not people) food. In the United States, studies show, raising livestock accounts for 55 percent of land erosion, 37 percent of pesticide use, and 50 percent of antibiotic consumption.
Globally, livestock are responsible for about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—farting cows are doing the atmosphere no good—and food animals, collectively, slurp up about a third of the world’s fresh water,” he said in his Future of Food Talk.
“On a purely personal level, there’s also the issue of our own health and wellbeing. A wealth of medical evidence shows that people whose diets are low in saturated fats—as found in meat and high-fat dairy products—and high in fruits and vegetables tend to lead healthier, longer lives,” he added. Finally, since many of the animals we eat are raised in wretched conditions on factory farms, eating meat forces us to contend with the moral issue of animal cruelty. Because of over-crowded and poor sanitary conditions, infections run rampant and the animals cannot engage in many of their natural social behaviors. Hens, for example, typically live out their entire lives in crowded cages, while female pigs are forced into crates which are so restrictive that they cannot even turn around. Every year, over 60 billion animals are killed in factory farms where they are subject to severe abuse and suffering for most of their short lives.
The good news, according to Thompson, is that people are beginning to do something about it. Thanks to a growing number of undercover investigations that expose the suffering of these animals, more and more consumers are thinking about reducing their meat consumption. “Increasingly, Americans now consider ‘factory farming’ to be a dirty word and are taking action by becoming a reducetarian,” said Thompson.
“Since we’ve started this campaign, we have only received positive feedback from people who have taken the pledge to become a reducetarian,” said Thompson. “They feel better physically, and feel great about the choices they’re making to help the environment and animals.”
Prominent Scientists Declare “All Non Human Animals… Are Conscious Beings.” The Dalai Lama Protests Chicken Slaughter. An Orangutan Won Non-Human Rights Over Zoo Keeper. What Do the Teachers Say About Non-Human Compassion?
 Buddha Weekly: 5 Ways Vegetarianism Could Save the World; 5 Buddhist Teachings and Teachers Recommending a Vegetarian Lifestyle; 5 Reasons it’s the Ethical Thing to Do
 The Guardian: “Five Reasons Vegetarians Can Save the World.”
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Author | Buddha Weekly
Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.