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A Tipping Point in the Meat Industry


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The meat industry has been more proactive in responding to negative headlines, while defending meats’ role in a healthy diet.

midan_marketingSomething different is happening in the meat industry. The winds of change are starting to feel like we may have reached a tipping point. 

Malcolm Gladwell refers to this as the magical “moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses the threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire.”

The meat industry’s recent quick and confident response to negative headlines has created some magical moments. Recent headlines have told consumers fresh meat could cause cancer or implied there is no place in animal agriculture for the use of antibiotics.

Yes, our industry has long been a regular target in the popular press. This target practice is, of course, nothing new. What is new is the response. The industry has been more proactive in responding to these negative headlines and defending meat production and its role in a healthy diet. It is making a difference.

Most recently, when The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), reported processed meat is carcinogenic to humans and red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, industry trade groups, meat processors and individuals quickly stood up and challenged the organization’s findings. The result? The WHO was forced to clarify its findings, and acknowledge meat is a part of a healthy diet—a huge win for the industry.

The National Pork Board recently took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal challenging the announcement from Subway that the company would stop sourcing animals treated with antibiotics. The ad highlighted the reasons behind the responsible use of antibiotics to treat animals, and the alternative to not using them—sick, suffering animals. Using a medium like the Wall Street Journal helped the National Pork Board take its message directly to the public and gain nationwide support. At the same time, farmers and other pro-agriculture individuals let their voices be heard through their own blogs and social media posts. A favorite blogger of mine, FeedyardFoodie, garnered a ton of attention and helped set the record straight about why antibiotics are needed in production agriculture.

Subway later restated its position (though quietly) to “recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine.” Another huge win, and, I hope, the start of a tipping point.

As an industry we have to continue in this direction—being bold and loud with the facts, backed up with faces that help to show off the human side of this remarkable industry. Proactively communicating directly with consumers and providing them with the transparency needed to get their questions answered is so important.

A couple of years ago, Midan Marketing conducted the Meat Matters research study, to determine how concerned consumers were about industry issues including the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in meat products. A key finding was when consumers are concerned about what is in their food or why it is produced a certain way, their concerns are quickly alleviated after being educated on the facts. 

As an industry, we have to continue engaging with consumers and educating them on our production practices and meat’s role in a healthy diet.  We also need to think about how we are communicating to consumers and the messages we are conveying.

Retailers and packer/processors need to work together to be prepared with the facts before reacting to an alarming headline. The goal is to explain, not react to, inflammatory situations. Industry organizations, such as the North American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Board, are great resources that can help us better understand the facts behind key issues. Consumers are likely to come to retailers looking for answers, and retailers should be proactive in communicating with them to alleviate any concerns.

I am excited because it certainly seems to me we are at that tipping point—and the idea of farmers, ranchers, packer/processors, retailers and food service operators all standing up and boldly sharing the facts with passion is going to catch on like wildfire. When it does, consumers will have much more freedom to make their meat choices, as they will not be constrained by false information. s

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