Commentary: Smoking babies and eating meat

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If you’re obligated—as I am—to spend your days slogging through a morass of activist propaganda attacking virtually every facet of meat and poultry production, a headline such as this will catch your eye (and quicken your pulse):

“Meat Sector Goes on the Offensive”

According to the story, it appears that the Euro meat sector is responding to spate of recent bad news that has fueled aggressive new campaigns from “anti-meat ginger groups,” as they’re euphemistically styled over there.

Here’s how The Poultry Site, a web-based resource in Sheffield, England, characterized the trend:

“Organizations such as BPEX, EBLEX, Quality Meat Scotland, Hybu Cyg Cymru and the Livestock and Meat Commission of Northern Ireland in the UK, Bord Bia in Ireland, Meat and Livestock Australia and Beef and Lamb New Zealand all mount consumer advertising campaigns in a bid to boost sales.”

(And no offense to the good folks running BPEX, but they might want to re-consider their “identity” statement: “BPEX is focused on enhancing the competitiveness, efficiency and profitability for English pig levy payers and driving demand for English pork and pig meat products in Britain and globally.” Where’s the consumer benefit to any of that? C’mon, guys).

Of course, the industry—here and abroad—has been under siege of late, thanks  to everything from research studies suggesting that meat eating increases one’s risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity.

Don’t get me started on that last one, but it’s out there—big time.

Maybe even more so in Europe.

For example, the Poultry Site piece noted that, “Recently in the UK, the [meat] sector came under fire from PETA with an advertisement showing a baby smoking and warning that meat eating presented similar dangers to smoking and warning consumers about the dangers of feeding red meat to their children.”

Leave it to PETA to take it totally over the top.

“The advertisement read, ‘You Wouldn't Let Your Child Smoke. Like smoking, eating meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Go vegan! PETA’ ”

According to the story, two industry-connected sources protested to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), challenging whether the claim that “eating meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer” was misleading and whether it could be substantiated.

A PETA spokesperson responded that the link between meat consumption and an increased risk of heart disease and some cancers had been repeatedly documented in a number of medical studies and reports and, as such, they did not feel that the claim was misleading.

However, ASA officials told PETA that the ad must not appear again in its current form, that the group could not imply that “any consumption of meat would raise the risk of heart disease and cancer.”

Hey, is the ASA available to litigate a few PETA campaigns here in the USA?

Industry’s go-to card

Encouraging as both the theme and the specifics of that particular story might be, it pointed out a familiar fault: “While the red meat sector around the world mounts regular defenses against [PETA’s campaign] and similar assaults on its safety and efficacy, it is rarely proactive in this area, despite the numerous consumer-directed promotions.”

Amen to that.

Even without reviewing the “consumer advertising campaigns to boost sales,” I’m pretty safe in saying that they’re all about the nutritional and culinary contributions meat makes to a person’s diet, with a few throwaway lines about how safe, wholesome and affordable animal foods really are.

It’s the go-to card that industry trade groups have been playing for decades.

Unfortunately, such an approach is essentially a defensive one, reacting to direct attacks by trying to deflect the attacker’s main points. When those involve babies smoking, I guess going defensive is appropriate, if not particularly effective.

Far better would be to promote positives: Regular consumption of animal foods helps with weight management, supports athletic training and offers generous amounts of critical nutrients that are difficult-especially for women—to obtain elsewhere. None of that is likely to convince diehard veggies, who believe that people humanely stunning a steer is barbaric, while wolves tearing apart a pregnant cow while she’s still alive is merely part of the cycle of life.

But it does have an impact on the majority of consumers, who respond tepidly to “anti-negative” proclamations from industry-connected groups, but in all honesty would love for someone to give them a good reason why they can—and should—eat beef, pork and poultry without guilt or fear.

Now that would make for an even more exciting story than merely fighting back.

Much as I love the idea of sticking it to PETA and their ilk.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Mpls MN  |  July, 31, 2013 at 02:27 PM

LOL You think bashing Peta or any animal welfare organization is going to do your industry any good. Just how many more retailers do you need to walk away from your factory farms that use intensive confinement for you to come to your senses. LOL You abuse apologists just refuse to wake up. LOL

Sydney  |  August, 01, 2013 at 05:32 AM

I would also love to hear "a good reason why they can—and should—eat beef, pork and poultry without guilt or fear." Killing sentient animals is unforgivable - unlike wolves, we can live healthy, well fed lives without tormenting and killing. Why wouldn't we? The only reason is profit and taste, and neither is a moral argument.

SW MO  |  August, 01, 2013 at 10:24 AM

I love a big thick juicy steak medium rare. You know a chin wiper with just a touch of artery clogging fat for that added flavor. When I'm done with that nothing satisfies more than a nice Marlboro cigarette. On the vegan side I'll sip down some barely and hops. Makes your mouth water thinking about it - don't it. Beef It's What's for Diner.


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