Yesterday I read an article on the PR news site Bulldog Reporter about the meat industry’s “image crisis.” From the public outcry against “pink slime,” to a recent incident of mad cow disease in a dairy cow, to the Harvard study released this spring that suggests eating meat could lead to premature death, this spring has been a PR practitioner’s nightmare.
According to the LA Times article cited in the story, “beef historian and author Maureen Ogle believes the industry should have responded by running polished advertisements featuring ranchers touting their American heritage, as well as billboards proclaiming the safety of products, and executives should have been sent to major talk shows.”
As a PR professional myself, I politely beg to disagree. I don’t think the meat industry has an image crisis that calls for a more polished public relations response. The meat industry has a listening crisis. The reason the media is filled with so much negative news is because the U.S. meat industry is not hearing its customers.
We are a household that still eats meat. I try to purchase from local producers who use organic feed, let animals graze, and treat them humanely, but like most people, sometimes I’m trying to live within the budget or I’m in a hurry and I purchase supermarket meat. I find that our family is moving to an increasingly vegetarian diet for many reasons – not the least of which is our distaste for much the U.S. meat industry’s standard practices. Your feelings may be different, of course, but here’s what I wish the meat industry would hear:
- We don’t want animals suffering in fetid feedlots or stuffed in crowded cages – not at any cost. We want humane treatment of animals raised for food production.
- We humans don’t want to have to forgo antibiotics when we’re sick, because of your continued overuse in the meat industry. (Factory farm animals consume 80% of all antibiotics in this country. The European Union curtailed use of routine antibiotic use on farms in 2006.)
- We don’t want you to pump these animals full of hormones like rBGH to induce quick growth. Let them grow up naturally. (The European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada have all banned the use of rBGH due to animal and human health concerns.)
- We want you to feed these animals good food that is part of their natural diet. We don’t want you to force animals that are herbivores, like cattle, to eat feed manufactured with animal by-products.
- We don’t want pink slime or other cheap additives in our meat. We simply want good, top-quality meat. (Canada, the UK and European Union have banned pink slime from their meat, but here it can constitute up to a whopping 15 percent of our ground beef without any labeling. Why?)
- We want you to take the lead in good practices. We want to be proud of our United States producers and processors, and we want U.S.-raised meat to be the best in the world.
In March 2012, ground beef sales slipped to the lowest level in a decade. Consumers are clearly voting with their checkbooks, and one can only hope that the U.S. meat industry collectively decides to improve its practices, not its propaganda.
What do you think?