Effects of red meat taxes and warning labels on food groups selected in a randomized controlled trial

Amelia Willits-Smith , Lindsey Smith Taillie, Lindsay Jaacks, Sarah Frank, Anna H. Grummon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

BACKGROUND: High consumption of red and processed meat contributes to both health and environmental harms. Warning labels and taxes for red meat reduce selection of red meat overall, but little is known about how these potential policies affect purchases of subcategories of red meat (e.g., processed versus unprocessed) or of non-red-meat foods (e.g., cheese, pulses) relevant to health and environmental outcomes. This study examined consumer responses to warning labels and taxes for red meat in a randomized controlled trial.

METHODS: In October 2021, we recruited 3,518 US adults to complete a shopping task in a naturalistic online grocery store. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four arms: control (no warning labels or tax), warning labels only (health and environmental warning labels appeared next to products containing red meat), tax only (prices of products containing red meat were increased 30%) or combined warning labels + tax. Participants selected items to hypothetically purchase, which we categorized into food groups based on the presence of animal- and plant-source ingredients (e.g., beef, eggs, pulses), meat processing level (e.g., processed pork versus unprocessed pork), and meat species (e.g., beef versus pork). We assessed the effects of the warning labels and tax on selections from each food group.

RESULTS: Compared to control, all three interventions led participants to select fewer items with processed meat (driven by reductions in processed pork) and (for the tax and warning labels + tax interventions only) fewer items with unprocessed meat (driven by reductions in unprocessed beef). All three interventions also led participants to select more items containing cheese, while only the combined warning labels + tax intervention led participants to select more items containing processed poultry. Except for an increase in selection of pulses in the tax arm, the interventions did not affect selections of fish or seafood (processed or unprocessed), eggs, or plant-based items (pulses, nuts & seeds, tofu, meat mimics, grains & potatoes, vegetables).

CONCLUSIONS: Policies to reduce red meat consumption are also likely to affect consumption of other types of foods that are relevant to both health and environmental outcomes.



Original languageEnglish
Article number39
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Early online date15 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Red meat
  • Processed meat
  • Health
  • Sustainability
  • Warning label
  • Tax
  • Food policy
  • Food purchases
  • Randomized trial


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