Just 4% of people feel their diet affects their carbon footprint, a new study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI) has found.

Some 9% of survey respondents said they thought food produced organically or locally has a lower emissions impact.

This is in comparison to 64% who listed transport and 56% who cited home energy use as affecting their carbon footprint.

The study was of 1,200 adults in Ireland and was conducted online. The participants were asked to complete a diary task about their previous day and answer questions on their carbon footprint.

The report, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is on people’s personal climate action attitudes with regard to food, transport and home energy.

Red meat

Some 46% of respondents reported eating red meat more than once per week. This was strongest among men, with 56% eating red meat once per week compared with 38% of women.

There was a slight difference between the younger and older generations in beef and lamb consumption, with 45% of those under 40 saying they eat it weekly compared with 49% over 60.

There was no difference in meat consumption between urban and rural residents.


On health, the report referenced research stating that red meat is “probably carcinogenic”.

On the other hand, it states that the Health Service Executive (HSE) advises that red meat be eaten as part of a “healthy balanced diet”.

Behaviour change

When asked specifically about having changed their diet to reduce their carbon footprint, one in four said they had.

Some 18% of those who changed their diet said they reduced their consumption of beef or lamb, while 13% said they bought more local food and 10% each responded that they reduced their intake of other meat or dairy.

On potentially changing behaviour for dietary impact on carbon footprint, 94% had at least one difficulty. Of these, 36% said cost was the biggest barrier to changing their behaviour.

Some 19% identified a difficulty in that their preference is to eat red meat, while 15% cited health reasons.


The report also suggested policy changes that it said would aim to reduce diet-based emissions.

These include future climate action plans having specific actions relating to dietary emissions, information on what food to buy to reduce emissions and environmental labelling.

The reports authors said diet matters most when it comes to carbon footprint.

“Unlike transport behaviour, where awareness of the emissions produced is high, dietary behaviour is afflicted by a lack of awareness of emissions embedded within the type of food eaten.

“The large majority of the public, when incentivised to list behaviours that matter the most, fail to identify that what they eat matters for their carbon footprint.

“Moreover, even the minority (about one in six) who report having reduced their red meat intake for environmental reasons fail to consider their diet as mattering most for their carbon footprint.

“It is hence unsurprising that most people have not changed their diet and do not intend to, despite surveys showing favourable attitudes towards climate change mitigation,” it said.

The report also said from “an environmental perspective” reducing demand for red meat is a sensible policy aim.

It acknowledged this would have an economic impact on “those who work in the beef production sector”.