Defensive strategies

by Joel Crews
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Whenever the MEATPOULTRY.com daily Web news includes reports on certain hot-button issues, my inbox fills up with responses from processors and suppliers defending their industry like a mother bear protecting her cub. When it comes to certain topics, such as immigration, national animal I.D. and recall controversy, a substantial uprising is expected. Too often, however, the industry is found defending itself against accusations that are completely unwarranted and far-fetched. One recent example of what I consider to be unfair implication came in the wake of a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimated the annual cost of obesity in the U.S. to be as high as $147 billion. One meat processor pointed out that technology is to blame for the prevalence of plump, exercise-starved kids in America and for many adults it can only be attributed to laziness.

"It is not so much the food we eat as it is our lifestyle," he wrote. "Our children spend a large portion of their time playing video games and very little engaging in games that require physical activity. As adults, we, too, find ourselves striving to find the closest parking spot to the front door of a business or store."

Because all of the skeptic’s eyes immediately train on the meat and poultry industry, presumably because of their supply-based relationship with the fast-food segment, it has become a knee-jerk reaction for processors to immediately go on the defense when a new obesity report is published or another bogus report links cancer risks to certain categories of food — often without meat ever being mentioned.

The fact that processors collectively spend millions each year educating customers and consumers about nutrition and the importance of healthy diets is wasted on agenda-driven critics. Likewise, the industry’s proven commitment to research and develop healthier products tends to also be overlooked by the same critics.

Accompanying the CDC report, which never mentioned a correlation to meat or poultry consumption, was a list of "evidence-based" program and policy recommendations to help communities promote healthy eating and physical activity. Strategies include promoting the availability of affordable, healthy food; supporting healthy food and beverage choices; and encouraging physical activity or limiting sedentary activity. The industry’s leading companies and the trade groups representing them addressed these topics starting decades ago and continue to do so. This is the story the industry needs to tell if there are implications for the meat and poultry processing segment when these types of reports are published.

"It is critical that we take effective steps to contain and reduce the enormous burden of obesity on our nation," said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, last month. This is also a burden that must be shared with consumers, who can’t point fingers at food companies that are doing more than their fair share to address the issue.

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