A Letter to the Meat Industry

Cows at Happy Simple Living
Photo by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

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?

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

15 thoughts on “A Letter to the Meat Industry”

  1. Ditto! I recently helped cater a lunch at the state capital – the Humane Society named a new agricultural committee to help connect farmers and ranchers who are humanely raising high quality meat with local consumers who by and large still don’t have access to it. The luncheon was a presentation to the state legislature, and I’m hoping it educated them a bit!

    • Good for you, Michele! I’m so happy you had that direct connection with lawmakers who are in a position of influence (and knowing you, I’m sure the lunch was fabulous). xo

    • I’ll just start by apologizing for sounding trollish in this post but I feel a few things must be clarified about conventional animal agriculture. I also apologize that this could be somewhat long-winded. I’m from Iowa which is one of the top agriculturally involved states in the country and I am involved with it firsthand.
      I personally don’t see the animals as suffering on most farms that I visit and don’t feel that the farmers are harming them. Unless a farmer is selling direct to a consumer they cannot afford to raise them on grass. It is just too expensive to justify using ground that can raise a lot of corn to grow grass for cows that can not give a good return on investment. Also, land price where I live in central Iowa is averaging around $10,000 an acre making it almost impossible to try start a farm with organic practices unless an individual is very wealthy starting the farm.
      To the second point about antibiotics, the farms that I have seen personally only use antibiotics when needed. I cannot, however, give any information on other farms.
      The third point goes back to cost again. Most American consumers are not willing to pay the price for the meat it would take to achieve a living wage for the farmer without the use of all hormones.
      Number four again indicates a change in practice that would cause many farms to lose money unless the price of meat products was increased.
      I really don’t don’t know a lot about the beef trimmings to comment on that situation so again I apologize for being long-winded, but I appreciate anyone who read this the whole way through.

      • Dear Tyler,
        Thank you for sharing your perspective about what is truly a complex issue. It’s much appreciated, and I’m glad you took the time to present a different point of view.

  2. I hear you! Did you see the movie Food Inc. The animal farmers wouldn’t even let camera’s into their barns because the conditions were so putrid. I have teens who want to eat meat but I have reduced the quantity per meal and the number of meat meals I make a week. I just can’t trust these farmers. I also do buy organic when ever possible.

    • I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s on my list now – thanks, Diane! I read Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and found it to be quite eye-opening as well.

  3. I agree! And we aren’t giving the meat industry much financial support these days. My husband hunts and fishes, so we have venison and fish in the freezer most of the time. Last August we purchased a humanely and healthfully raised hog from a farmer in our county and had it processed one county away. We still buy organic free-range chickens once in a while from Trader Joe’s, but that’s about it for meat.

  4. I buy local and organic meat for myself, and my kids eat it as well. For some insane reason hubby prefers grocery store meat, so I’m stuck buying both because if I don’t have organic and local meat on hand, I don’t eat meat. The movie Food Inc. WILL change your views on how, and what you’re willing to eat!

  5. The European Union and the United States have strong disagreements over the EU’s regulation of genetically modified food. The US claims these regulations violate free trade agreements, the EU counter-position is that free trade is not truly free without informed consent.

  6. I live in the UK and there are strong feelings towards the United States stance on gentically modified food. Interesting to see if the EU sticks to their guns on this one and continues with the policy!

  7. Canadian cattle are injected with growth hormones. Most ranchers, at least in BC, inject Ralgro pellets (for instance) into their animal in the spring. I guess itโ€™s not rBGH but it is a hormone nevertheless.
    I wish all hormones were outlawed! and then all of the producers would have an even playing ground to play on.

  8. I have seen Food Inc. and learned a lot that I didn’t know. It’s an excellent movie. I was surprised that no one here left a comment that would really help solve the problem with the meat (and dairy) industries, help the environment, and create better health: become vegan or vegetarian. Eat whole organic foods. Even moving in that direction by eating less meat is helpful.

    We’ve made great strides in improving our habits and being conscious about our carbon footprint. But we need to know that meat contributes to climate change (they emit gases!), wastes water, takes up room and erodes soil that could be used to feed people.

    I do understand as I do still eat eggs and a bit of dairy that it is hard to change habits. I am still working on it myself and the rest of my family eats some meat. And I agree that if we consume these things (and meat) we should buy free range, local, organic and cruelty free. But I also think we all need to evaluate what the price of eating meat and animal products is doing to our health and our world.

    Another movie that I strongly recommend is Forks Over Knives. It is about eating a plant based diet to be healthy and prevent (or even reverse) disease.



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