By Ann Barlow, Partner & President, Peppercomm West Coast
We carnivores read this week’s news from the World Health Organization labeling processed meats as carcinogens and red meat as a likely carcinogen with dismay if not surprise. The WHO and other health research sources have been talking about this for more than a decade. Still, if your business is related to one of these, meat lovers aren’t the only ones having a bad week. The question is, how do you respond?
One thing we’ve learned in working with agriculture industries over the past decade or so is that we Americans know shockingly little about where our food comes from. Some of the ag companies we work with tell us that even grocery stores know precious little. So rather than either hiding from this new onslaught or trying to discredit the study, why not seize the opportunity to talk about how they produce meats and how to consume meats in moderation as part of a healthy diet?
Done right, this kind of campaign can establish some goodwill, provide some much-needed guidance (and reassurance that it’s ok to eat meat in moderation) and put more of a friendly face to an industry that is often seen as being run by a few giant companies that care more about profits than animal welfare, food safety and the family farm or ranch.
So, meat processor, some thoughts:
- Make it not about you. Instead, find individual ranchers, farmers or processers or other partner who can make us feel like what we consume is in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing and who cares.
- Educate us. For instance, ‘cured’ or ‘processed’ meat sounds like you’re chemically treating or using parts of the animal that we shudder at in this culture. Instead, help us understand that curing might be smoking the meat, for instance. Remind people that even the nitrates used in curing account for a tiny percentage of our regular intake (most comes from the vegetables we consume).
- Be part of the solution. For decades, you’ve helped us with things like information on meat cuts and recipes. But you’ve more than overbalanced that with criticism of studies. Instead, reinforce your message of everything in moderation. Imagine the credibility you could gain by doing that. Years ago, I worked on a program with the federal government and AT&T called Telecommute America. One of our biggest supporters for helping Americans work from home or a location close to home was Ford Motor. They generated a lot of goodwill with that stance.
- And keep cleaning up your act. What you can’t afford right now are more stories about contamination and inhumane treatment of animals. In many places around the industry, companies have been working to strengthen oversight and provide better conditions for cattle, pigs and chickens. Spend your resources in continuing to be better stewards and educators, rather than lobbying for laxer regulations. To be sure, regulations can be costly, unnecessarily burdensome and sometimes just downright stupid. But your reputation will be so much stronger, and you might sleep better, if you focus on the positive.