The Global Food Security programme commissioned the survey of 2,024 adults to gauge public attitudes towards the links between food systems and climate change.
The researchers found that 66% of consumers who believe in anthropogenic climate change also agree that the food system is a major contributor and that diets need to change in order to “significantly reduce the impact of climate change”.
But how far are they willing to go? Meat is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions but 59% of Brits said they would never consider a vegan diet, 47% would never consider a pescatarian diet and 39% would never consider a vegetarian diet. Added to this, around one in five (19%, 20% and 21% respectively) said they probably wouldn’t consider doing any of these in the future.
Around a quarter are stubbornly set in their ways: 24% claimed they wouldn’t eat differently even if there were severe impacts, such as droughts, sea level rises and ocean acidification. And 21% would stick with their diets even if it led to higher prices.
That still leaves a majority prepared to make some changes. However, convincing them to do so will be far from straightforward.
Taste (95%) and value for money (91%) are the most important factors when buying food, followed by health (72%). Indeed, four in five respondents (80%) said they would be likely to consider changing their overall diet if doing so would improve their overall health or the health of their family. A similar number (79%) would do so if they saved money. The foods would also have to be convenient: 68% said they’d change diets so long as they didn’t have to go out of their way.
“With this in mind, in order for the British public to make changes to their diet it is vital that it does not adversely impact their finances, health or enjoyment of food,”the authors noted in their report. “Additionally, carbon footprint and environmental sustainability have limited importance which needs to be considered when developing proactive messaging.”
Indeed, fewer than one in two shoppers (46%) think about the environmental sustainability of a product, whilst only a third (33%) rated the carbon footprint as an important consideration. Just 5% buy food with a lower carbon footprint when it’s available, but only 12% suggested they would not do this in the future. The authors suggested that “for these environment-influenced dietary choices, the British public do not appear to have strong feelings either way, and therefore could be persuaded if the impact on price, taste and health was negligible”.
More information would help. Some 58% said they felt uninformed about the impact of climate change on food supply, whilst 65% said they’d like to receive more information on climate change and its relationship with the food system. There is “a particular need to raise awareness”, the authors explained.
Around half (47%) of those who want more information said it should come on packaging, through carbon footprints for example. The majority (70%) said communication should come via TV programmes. Scientists and researchers are most trusted sources of this information (81%), moreso than environmental charities (67%). Only 42% said the UK government would provide accurate information. However, trust in the food industry is even lower, at 36%, putting it on a par with the media.
“Generally, the British public are less informed on the relationship between climate change and the food system than they are on other effects of climate change so concentrating information on the food system would be worthwhile,” the authors concluded.