The Beef Industry Needs a Little Black Book

By Will Verboven, Contributing Editor

How many times have you wished you had some instant facts at your fingertips whenever you hear or read disparaging nonsense about the cattle and beef industry? You know, those times in social circles, at public meetings, urban media events, or mostly any place you hear some over-zealous, biased person sound off with misleading fabrications about beef or cattle related issues?

Wouldn’t it feel good if you were able to quickly respond with cold verified facts to stop the nonsense in its tracks? When you’re contemplating writing an e-mail to an editor, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to instantly quote, “According to a recent study at the University of XYZ there is no proven connection between antimicrobial use in cattle and humans”?

Seems pretty straight forward and would seem useful at the right time. Anti-meat lobby groups are masters at twisting and spinning words, but they can’t stand up to instant facts. But then they don’t worry about that – most folks don’t respond to inflammatory provocative statements because they don’t have the information at their fingertips. That’s why first impressions are vital to anti-beef lobby groups. Their tactics work rather well.

To be fair, beef and cattle industry groups across North America grind out prodigious quantities of facts and figures about industry issues and consumer concerns about beef. For instance, a producer agency up here in the Great White North published a wonderful, factual and consumer-friendly brochure about antibiotic and steroid use in beef production. Those of us in the industry choir were impressed; however, it’s unlikely many consumers or urban media will ever use this brochure – it’s just too easily lost or thrown away. It was the right message, but the wrong medium.

That could be said for a lot of beef production issues. To add to the problem, it seems that the right information is never handy at the right time. That’s a real problem for urban media folk who have little understanding of agricultural issues and are loathe to contact industry organization for the facts. Most city media folks have been duped by lobby groups that industry agencies are hopelessly biased and liars. It has always baffled me how green, organic and anti-meat lobby groups have been able to control the moral high ground on issues and are deemed to be the only purveyors of truth and trust by so many in the urban and mainstream media. But I digress.

I am suggesting that the cattle and beef industry in North America create a “little black book” of facts about issues of concern to consumers and the media. It sounds simple. It is – but it does somewhat go against the grain of the usual approach by professional PR folks who prefer news releases, glossy brochures, testimonials, etc. All of that has some value, but when one needs instant info, even an Internet search takes too long.

What about an old school approach? Put easy-to-find facts about popular industry issues in a little black reference book. Then saturate every media and consumer outlet and forum with those little black books. In addition, let producers distribute them wherever and to whomever. I would boldly suggest that if even 10 percent of the folks receiving those books read some of them, they would vastly exceed the numbers who read industry news releases, emails and other advocacy material that gets disposed of so quickly.

One thing for sure, I suspect that anyone (including yourself) getting a little black book on industry issues is more likely to remember you have one and will probably refer to it in the future. Sure, it’s something of a throwback to pre-social media times, but it’s hard to delete and probably has a lot more longevity sitting on someone’s desk.

I expect media professionals and PR folks will disparage the little black book idea, but I ask those in the meat industry how successful modern PR approaches to issues like hormones, steroids, carbon footprint, etc., have been? I would suggest that the industry is losing that PR battle.

I believe a little black book would have universal appeal to everyone in the industry and beyond. It’s not a new idea – the American Council on Science and Health, a highly respected organization that provides commonsense perspectives and debunks junk science, has published its own little black book on popular health and science issues. It has proven to be a resounding success and was even featured on TV network news talk shows. Ask yourself – when was the last time you heard TV media mention something positive about what our industry is doing to spread the facts?