Search icon

Polling shows public unaware of major health risks of high meat diets

News Section Icon Published 7/24/2023

Poll findings revealed as member states gather in Rome for UN Food Systems + 2 Stocktaking meeting to report on national progress

A new poll released today (24 July) has revealed that more than a quarter of people across eight countries polled (26%) are unaware of any of the major health risks associated with high consumption and overproduction of meat products when presented with a list of them.

The poll – carried out by YouGov on behalf of Compassion in World Farming in the UK, the US, Czechia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain – shows that just 20% of people polled know that air pollution from factory farms increases the risk of certain lung cancers. And just 17% are aware that there is an increased risk of epidemics and pandemics.

While more than half of people (54%) are aware that diets heavy in meat products increase the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and obesity, only 39% are aware that current use of antibiotics in farming is making them less effective at treating human diseases.

When asked what would encourage them to purchase environmentally sustainable foods, the answer cited most was ‘knowing the animals were reared with high welfare standards such as a comfortable living environment that meets their physical and behavioural needs’ (51%). The reason ‘knowing the health benefits associated with organic, free-range, pasture reared meats’ was the second most popular selected across all eight countries by 40% of people.

A report released by the NGO in May – More Money, More Meat – revealed how richer countries are literally eating their way to extinction by consuming too much meat and other animal proteins. It also revealed, for the first time, how much each country needs to reduce this by to live within health and planetary boundaries.

In addition to causing immense animal cruelty and damaging our planet, this trend is seriously harming our health, by:

  • Increasing people’s risk of certain cancers and other diseases including coronary heart disease, strokes, type II diabetes, as well as obesity in the global north.
  • Unjustly driving people from their land and causing malnutrition and hunger in the global south – feeding more grain to animals makes it more expensive for people which can cause land to be taken from communities to grow crops for farmed animals instead of people.*
  • Increasing the risk of pandemics like flus and coronaviruses – cramming animals together in factory farms creates the perfect environment for diseases to be transmitted and even to evolve into new, deadly strains that also infect people.
  • Increasing the risk of lung cancer due to Industrial agriculture pollution – factory farms produce air pollution when ammonia reacts with other chemical compounds in the air to form particular matter – this can penetrate deep into the lungs causing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and lung cancer.
  • Making antibiotics less effective at treating diseases in people – around 70% of the world’s antibiotics are given to farmed animals, often as a preventative measure. This is contributing to antibiotic resistance in people – predicted to kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

The poll results come as representatives from each member state meet for the UN Food Systems Stocktaking Moment in Rome to review countries’ progress towards creating a more sustainable global food system. Compassion in World Farming’s Global CEO, Philip Lymbery, will be participating in the event, raising awareness of the urgent need for leaders to agree a global rescue plan for our food system, including a significant global reduction in meat consumption.

Award-winning author and former UN Food Systems Champion, Philip, said: “When animals suffer, we all suffer. Industrial animal agriculture is not only the single biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet, it’s damaging our planet, increasing the risk of pandemics and seriously harming our health.

“Yet our new poll shows that many people aren’t even aware of other serious health risks linked to meat production. What’s needed is for world leaders to agree a clear global ‘rescue plan’ for our food system to ensure a healthy future for people, planet and animals. Urgent policies are needed from governments to reduce meat consumption and accelerate a shift towards regenerative food and farming.”

The international animal welfare and environmental NGO has launched an initiative as part of its global END.IT campaign to raise awareness of the human costs associated with eating too much meat and other animal proteins. It includes the launch of a new booklet – When Animals Suffer, We All Suffer – explaining the risks. It urges the public to sign the END.IT  petition calling on global leaders to agree a clear global ‘rescue plan’ for our food system to ensure a healthy future for animals, people and the planet.

The END.IT campaign is supported by renowned Hollywood and Succession actor Brian Cox who said: “Factory farming is not only the single biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet, it is harming the environment and human health. It contributes to heart disease, lung cancer, antibiotic resistance, and even malnutrition. We need to End It. Now. Join me in calling on world leaders to transform our global food system for the sake of our health and the wellbeing of future generations to come.”

Carried out in June and July 2023, the poll showed that awareness of the health consequences of high meat diets and production was low in all countries. The USA had the highest number of people unaware of any of the health consequences at 34%, followed by the UK at 26%. The country with the lowest number of people unaware of any of these health risks was Italy at 19% - still 1 in 5 people.

Adults in the UK were most likely to be aware of the increased risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and obesity due to overconsumption (61%) and alongside Spain, were the most likely to cite animal welfare benefits as a reason for considering adopting a more sustainable diet (both 56%), with 55% of those polled in France also citing this.

Those surveyed in Italy and Poland were the least likely to be aware of the pandemic risk associated with high meat diets (both at 12%), followed by Czechia (14%). However, adults in Poland were the most likely to be aware of the 'increased risk of certain lung cancers due to air pollution from factory farms’ (27%), followed by those in Italy (26%), with people from Czechia and the UK the least aware of this (both 15%). People surveyed in the USA were also the most likely to state that nothing would encourage them to buy sustainably produced food (24%), compared with just 6% of people in Italy.

For more information about the campaign and to sign the petition visit

For more information please email or call +44 (0)1483 521 615.

Notes to Editors: 

  1. Compassion in World Farming was founded in 1967 by a British dairy farmer who became horrified at the development of intensive factory farming. Today Compassion is a global movement dedicated to ending factory farming and achieving humane and sustainable food. With headquarters in the UK, we have offices across Europe, in the US, China and South Africa. 
  2. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 9420 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th June - 5th July 2023.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of each individual country adults (aged 18+).
  3. *This report on Industrial Soy Expansion in Brazil provides an example of when a surge in the commodity price of crops (e.g. soy – an important animal feed crop) drives the expansion of agriculture in the global south (e.g. Brazil), increasing the value of land leading to the clearing of native vegetation, appropriating rural communities’ land, increasing poverty and hunger.

You are using an outdated browser which we do not support. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

If you have any further questions regarding this, or any other matter, please get in touch with us at We aim to respond to all queries within two working days. However, due to the high volume of correspondence that we receive, it may occasionally take a little longer. Please do bear with us if this is the case. Alternatively, if your query is urgent, you can contact our Supporter Engagement Team on +44 (0)1483 521 953 (lines open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).