Don’t bury your head in the sand

by Bryan Salvage
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Kansas City, Mo. – While growing up, my mom used to drill into me that when it comes to dealing with difficult and unpleasant personal or business matters, it should always be confronted head-on and a case of “mind over matter” to successfully deal with such situations. And although she was a pleasant and optimistic person, she was also a realist and often reminded me that sometimes “life isn’t fair” whenever seemingly unfair things happened to me or people that I knew. Bad things sometimes happen to good people, she reminded me over the years. The same thing goes for businesses...bad things happen sometimes to good businesses.

During the more than three decades I have covered the meat and poultry industry, the vast majority of folks I have met and/or interviewed in this industry were hard-working, honest people — many were supporting families and who were dedicated and committed to making the best, safest products possible. They were also dedicated to continuous improvement throughout their operations — from live animal handling through to the final distribution of finished products. Last but not least, they were also compassionate people who cared very much about their employees, customers, consumers and live animals used to make their meat and poultry products.

While scanning the news wires for industry news each day, I oftentimes stumble across stories with inflammatory headlines depicting the US meat and poultry industry as an evil empire consisting of “factory farms” run by ruthless executives who care nothing about the food animals used to make their products — or the people that work for them or buy their products. Industry is also routinely charged by its critics for polluting the environment and for producing unsafe products—almost always by anti-meat and poultry forces and the flames are usually further stoked by a generally ignorant consumer press that most times seems to run with any negative thing spoon fed to them by these self-serving activists regardless of the consequences to the innocent people or businesses in their cross-hairs.

Do bad things happen in this industry? You bet. Like any other industry, there will always be a few bad apples who will unfairly reflect badly on the entire industry. I’m not going to preach to the converted …who knows better than you what is done on a daily basis inside corporate headquarters and packing and processing plants in the never-ending drive to consistently produce the safest protein products in the world. A growing challenge is to tirelessly remain on the offensive and to routinely inform your customers, consumers and the press about how your companies are devoted to continuous improvement and provide examples of what you are doing to achieve these goals backed by science whenever possible. It’s also equally important not to sit idly by whenever unfair charges are made against innocent people or companies in this industry.

I was glad when the American Meat Institute launched its series of Meat Mythbusters videos several years back, which tells the truth (backed by sound science) about meat-industry myths that are routinely spread by anti-meat forces through the mainstream media. It’s also very helpful for major industry associations to get the word out about the many nutritional benefits and safety of the meat and poultry products they make. The same must be done by individual companies.
  
If your company is hit by criticisms or accusations that are untrue, don’t bury your head in the sand hoping that this unpleasantness will soon pass — instead, charge full speed ahead to counter these charges in an unemotional way and hit unscrupulous adversaries back twice as hard with the truth —and again, backed by science whenever and wherever possible.

Gone are the days when two parties could respectfully agree to disagree, particularly when it comes to providing meat and poultry products for retail and foodservice markets. Many anti-meat camps aren’t interested in letting consumers decide for themselves if they should eat meat or not. They would like to see all meat and poultry companies to go out of business…period. And for them, the end — whether factually accurate or not — always justifies the means.
  
If history provides any lessons, it’s very likely that bad things will continue to happen to good people and businesses. So, for those of you who are tempted to bury your head in the sand until the storm passes… it’s time to take off the gloves and fight back for what you worked so hard to build. Don’t be lulled into thinking unfair charges or accusations will never be leveled against you or your company. Saying or doing nothing to protect yourself and your business is never the answer. Be prepared.

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