Setting consumer perceptions straight
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Millions of consumers enjoy eating a variety of meat products throughout the United States all day, every day both at home and at restaurants. As a result, industry continues to enjoy increasing sales. Retail sales of meat and poultry products were more than $85 billion in 2012, up from approximately $73 billion in 2008, according to a recent study titled “Meat and Poultry Trends in the United States” published by Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. Retail sales of meat and poultry products are predicted to increase to $98.3 billion by 2017. Many new products entering the marketplace are value-added, which accounts in great part for the sales increase, the study claims.
On the other hand, meat consumption in the US has been decreasing for almost 10 years due to a host of reasons. Consumer perceptions play a major role in meat and poultry purchases these days. At present, two major issues, in particular, continue eating away at industry’s bottom line. One is perceived consumer health concerns as the result of eating red meat, which is caused in large part by numerous, debatable studies claiming that a high level of red-meat consumption is unhealthy. In many of these studies, the science doesn’t support the damning claims that are made in the headlines. Humane animal handling is another significant area being constantly attacked by activist anti-meat forces, which plays a major role in shaping consumer perceptions on how industry as a whole treats its food animals.
Being the target of anti-meat forces is nothing new for the industry. It has oftentimes found itself playing defense in recent years after negative, “meat-studies-of-the-month” news stories break and go viral, thanks to the mainstream media and the speed of the Internet. Many of these studies compare apples to oranges or are very one-sided or incomplete at the very least. Some are dead wrong. Even worse, most of the writers in the mainstream media have little experience if any in covering the industry so they are unable to tell if these studies are valid or not.
Thankfully, various meat and poultry companies, associations plus academia have been taking the offense in more recent years to counter and set the record straight on questionable studies and meat myths by using scientific and other proven facts. One of the most effective of such strategies is the Meat MythCrushers web site (www.meatmythcrushers.com/), which was developed several years back in consultation with some leading experts in the field of meat and animal science, food safety and nutrition to provide consumers and the oftentimes uninformed media with the other side of the story — a side that often is overlooked in media reports and on the Internet. The American Meat Institute hosts the site and materials that are posted have been reviewed by members of the American Meat Science Association plus other experts throughout industry.
One popular target of anti-meat camps is processed meats. Meat critics tend to use a broad brush approach when criticizing processed meats. However, not all processed meats are the same and they exhibit different nutritional profiles. For example, these products are available in a variety of formats including low-fat, fat-free, lower-sodium and gluten-free products, and they continue to play a meaningful role in a moderate, balanced diet.
Although some studies alleging a link between processed meats and cancer plus a host of other health problems are hyped to the max by the mainstream media, many other, more balanced studies conclude the polar opposite — but reports reflecting positively on the industry receive far less publicity because bad news sells plus many writers in the mainstream media are apparently sympathetic to vegan lifestyles. One of the largest studies ever done, in which data from 14 major studies was pooled, concluded there was no association between red and processed meat and cancer. Furthermore, a comprehensive, 2010 review of the evidence on processed meat and colon cancer concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a link between the two, MythCrushers relays.
In recent years, undercover videos have allegedly caught companies in the act of mistreating their live animals and such stories go viral in the mainstream media. Again, industry stepped up to the plate to further investigate the legitimacy of such videos. MEATPOULTRY.com reported in February 2012 that The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) had established an Animal Care Review Panel to review and assess footage depicted in the increasing number of undercover video investigations at livestock farms alleging abuse. Including animal-welfare experts, the panel examines video footage and communicates their findings to the public. Although this process was initially established for the pork industry, CFI said it is prepared to work with other animal-protein segments.
Some customers and consumers don’t know what constitutes humane animal handling and what takes place during the slaughter process, in particular. So, on Aug. 24, 2012, AMI released its Glass Walls Project video, which shows cattle handling and processing at a beef plant, including the stunning process.
Dr. Temple Grandin, who operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ. and has been a Meat&Poultry magazine columnist for more than 30 years, is featured in this film. She describes each process and covers many aspects of handling and slaughter. For example, after cattle are stunned, she explains it is normal to see some uncoordinated leg movement. This does not mean an animal is conscious or being inhumanely treated.
Collectively, these proactive actions bode well for the industry as they allow industry to stay in front of many erroneous and sometimes devious claims made against it with solid scientific and expert facts. When it comes to setting the record straight, being on the offense always trumps playing defense.