Improving public communication

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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I saw a graph in the September 2012 issue of National Geographic that made me fall off my chair. The graph showed that beef production uses more than twice as much water compared to pork or chicken production.

I thought, something has to be wrong, so I looked up the source of this graph, which was a paper published in Eco System by Mesfin McKonnen and Arjen Hoekstra, titled “The Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products.”

After I read this paper, I discovered the graph was a huge over-simplification. The authors stated that beef required eight times more feed than pork. This would be true if the cattle spent their entire life in a feedyard. Most beef cattle spend less than half of their lives in a feedyard.

The paper also states that grazing cattle have a lower water footprint. When looking at conservation of water, cattle that graze on natural rangelands mostly use rain water. Vast quantities of land can’t be cropped. The only way to grow food on this land is use it to graze animals. The article did not discuss this.

Industry lives in a box

I was really pleased when the American Meat Institute put up the video of the tour I conducted of a beef packing plant. It is available on both YouTube and animalhandling.org. At the time of writing this article, it has received almost 10,000 views. We have to show what we do; otherwise all the public will see are horrible undercover videos.

The production side of agriculture has done a somewhat better job than the meat sector on communication. When I typed “cattle feedlot, chicken farm and pig farm” into Google, I get some good farm videos. When I typed in cattle slaughter, I got really bad stuff. I did Google keyword searches to test if I could access content in different types of publications. I tested many magazines I subscribe to, which includes National Geographic, weekly news magazines, an environmental magazine, Science, Nature and Air Cargo News. I could access some content without an online password in the above publications.

Publications aimed at producers were in the medium range of access and the meat publications were the hardest to access. This is really bad when a young student does a term paper. They will never read our stuff when they do searches with keywords. I realize advertisers want to know who is looking at ads, but maybe issues that are six months old could have full access on Google.

Everyone in the meat industry needs to start communicating outside the industry Internet forums. An article in the August 2012 issue of Science titled “Making Links” shows that most people talk to their own social group. Researchers say the spread of ideas depends upon crossing the boundaries of different social groups.

It is fine to participate on industry sites, but you should also send links to your friends in the big city. If you do not know how to do it, get a lesson from your kids. Spread the new beef plant tour video around the world. I have worked my entire career to improve how animals are handled in meat plants. I want the public to see things done right.

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