The meat industry needs to prove itself as a source of innovation and technology and reintroduce itself to consumers, says Charlie Arnot, head of the Center for Food Integrity. The comments came at the opening session of the Meat Industry Research Conference in Chicago this week.

To do that properly, many meat executives will have to change their approach, said Arnot. He unveiled the results of CFI's third annual survey of "Consumer Trust in the Food System," a survey of more than 2,000 consumers that CFI conducted in August and September, according to a report on

When red meat processors defend their industry to consumers and the media by pointing to the science and to the laws and regulations, they are doing little to nothing to change negative perceptions, Arnot noted. "Science is not sufficient,” he said.

Arnot said that securing consumers' confidence is four to five times more important to generating trust than is demonstrating competence or technical skill. Focus groups that were conducted nationwide as part of the research showed that consumers are disinterested in the details of food safety issues, and also uninformed.

The way to address the challenge is to focus on key opinion-makers among consumers and communicate in ways that they are likely to absorb the message, according to Arnot. While consumers overall are most likely to get their food industry information from local television, key opinion-makers are most likely to get their information from the Internet. There, Arnot said, the red meat industry can compete.