BEEF Editors' Blog

Talking Technology With Non-Technical Consumers

The beef industry has long been the target of activist attacks and consumer misunderstanding. Are we responding correctly?

The response to last week’s blog was very thought-provoking and I appreciate all of you who took the time to respond. It was a great discussion with 55 comments posted that offered lots of different perspectives. That's a remarkable number of comments for one of our blogs and a start in dealing with the many controversial and emotional issues that the beef industry deals with.

I also got some responses privately and I’d like to share two of them with you. One came from long-time BEEF salesman Jay Carlson, and the other came in a discussion with my lawyer-daughter. First, here are some excerpts of Jay’s thoughts on the blog:

I appreciate you having the courage to print this article from the college student. We can only move forward by finding out what the opposition is saying about us and then honestly evaluating their response.

All too often people take on problems, then fire off an answer and think that the problem is solved. Now bring on the next question when the reality is no time was taken to see if the answer truly was a viable solution for the dilemma being discussed

Now with this said, here is another question for you to ask our readers. Let me give a brief background. Years ago I was riding on a train headed to downtown New York City. I met an attorney headed to work. Since my destination was 10 blocks away and near his office, he volunteered to have me walk with him.  He soon learned of my love for the cattle business. He said he did not know much about the industry and asked: "Tell me about the cattle industry in America."  People talk about an "elevator speech being one minute or less," so what’s yours?  Keep in mind we want to sell the value of our industry quickly and, of course, with facts.

I don’t know exactly what I said, but I do recall that my response was pretty much a disaster. Later, from an Iowa cattleman, I heard what I consider the best elevator speech in regard to that lawyer’s question. He replied, "America has the largest economy in the world. The largest segment of our economy is agriculture. The largest segment of U.S. agriculture is the red meat industry at $136 billion."

This was years ago and lots has changed since then, so it may not be accurate today. However, it does address the fact that the American red meat industry is important to our economy. One could further talk about how many people in America whose jobs are tied to beef cattle segment.

If those in agriculture do not understand how to enthusiastically promote the value of what we do, who will?  To see if the answer sticks with consumers we must honestly evaluate whether or not the answer actually can stand up to criticism from those with opposing viewpoints. Now with that said, one has to also realize that some people are set in their ways and that this will never happen with them and that is OK. 

Jay’s last point is similar to the discussion I had with my lawyer-daughter. In short, she said that we in the beef business have too much of a silo mentality and that our responses to criticism about what we do are too one-sided.

That made me think of an email she sent me in response to my hunger blog several months ago. Here’s her response:

The way you write it is very compelling.  We can all relate to the very visual scenarios you put out there with the homeless person and the children. I like that part, and I like the way you said it.

However, my lawyer persuasive speaking has to step in. If you are trying to convince those who are wavering toward the anti-technology side, it's not going to work. In order to do that, you have to recognize their very real concerns (e.g., we don't know how the genetic changes in the food change the way our body metabolizes the food, and what results from that metabolism) and address them. You can say that there have been these studies showing that they’re safe, for example. But you will not win over the people who are thinking through this rationally instead of emotionally by an emotional appeal about hungry children. They will come back at you with an emotional appeal about their child growing an extra head, or getting cancer.  

In order to try to change their mind: Identify their concern. Validate their concern as one that is rational (and the "anti-technology" people do have rational concerns based on the lack of studies or knowledge, even if you don't like it). Then very nicely tell them why this other option is in fact more rational and meets their needs better than the stance they took initially.  

So what do you think? Are we in the beef industry too defensive in our responses to criticism? Where do you go for valid, bullet-proof information about this business we all love so much? What's your elevator speech about the positive aspects of ranching?



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Discuss this Blog Entry 9

shaun evertson (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

I agree that we can be too defensive. I find that most people are willing to be objective and honest so long as I'm willing to do the same. That's face-to-face of course. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree. Putting things in context is sometimes useful as well. Analogies work also. Sometimes I'll say 'how many people do you know who died from the toyota accelerator problem? Okay, how many people do you know who got a superbug from eating a hamburger?"

W.E. (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

Here's an elevator speech most cattlemen still don't know: Fat from red meat is not the source of the problem that makes Americans fat. Too many carbohydrates make people fat. Science has discovered that this includes the carbohydrates that most of our livestock eat, and that's the message the present status quo of the beef industry stubbornly resists. Conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid that the human body cannot get from any source except from the meat and milk of ruminant animals, has been helping keep human beings healthy since the days when humans were hunters and gatherers. CLA is proven to help prevent and fights cancerous tumors, diabetes and obesity, to satisfy our appetites, to promote a healthy lean to fat ratio in our bodies and to boost our immune systems. CLA was discovered by accident in 1987. Years of research now document these special benefits of grass-fed meats. Unfortunately, people did not know until the turn of the millennium that feeding cattle corn for the last ninety days of their lives virtually eliminates that amazing nutrient from their meat, along with beta-carotene, omega 3s, and vitamin E. Cattlemen know beef is a highly nutrient-dense high-protein food. Most are unaware what a truly broad spectrum of health-giving fatty acids, minerals and essential micronutrients beef provides, as long as cattle graze as they evolved to graze. Cattle can graze more efficiently than ever before, renewing land and building fertile topsoil, with the aid of affordable modern technologies like solar electric powered portable fences that allow grazed grass to rest and grow back as farmers and ranchers move their cattle to fresh pasture, where antibiotics are very rarely if ever required.

on Mar 19, 2014

One sector of the beef industry bashing another sector of the beef industry promotes no one in the beef industry with the consumer trying to become informed.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

I would like to see the scientific test data that you are spewing as fact. If your tiny little niche market has to disparage the vast majority of the US beef industry just to maintain a market share that is sad. I could write a book on how this industry has evolved, there are many reasons that we in the cattle business produce beef the way that we do. To continually try to promote your product simply by trying to defile the rest of the industry is nothing more than despicable. NO one ever made it to the top by putting others down.

on Mar 19, 2014

W.E. As usual you bring a lot of good points to the table, but as usual you have a corn fed beef is the devil and grass fed is the savior of man kind undertone. I don't think that producers don't know your message about carbohydrates that you suggest the beef industry "stubbornly resists." I think most producers,unlike yourself, understand that it's not food that makes people fat, but their own eating habits and lack of exercise! They stuff themselves till they are about to "pop," and then go ahead and eat that piece of cake too. Afterwards, they go sit around or take a nap. The way your comments are written would lead people to believe if they eat corn fed beef they will be obese, but if they eat grass fed beef…presto! Problem solved!!! How convenient for those like yourself producing grass fed beef. As usual your underlying agenda shows itself. The fact is that neither grass fed nor conventionally raised beef will prevent obesity, only an individuals own eating habits and lifestyle can effect that. I myself applaud the grass fed sector of our industry, there is a great market for it and producers should cater to it if they so choose. But don't degrade those in our industry producing their products using conventional methods, be it directly or through undertones, to further your own agenda. As for your comments on rotational grazing, I couldn't agree more. We have been doing so for years, and have seen tremendous results from doing so. But, then you had to throw in that comment about antibiotics, you're persistent I'll give you that. I guess you are against stocker operators, because by that comment clearly you have never dealt with multiple loads of commingled, sale barn calves, and the subsequent disasters that can follow if sick calves aren't treated. The way you threw that little comment on the tail end could lead one to think you are suggesting that antibiotic use in livestock is completely wrong. Are there cases of abuse of antibiotics? Absolutely. The vast majority of producers as whole however, only use them as necessary, and under the direction of a veterinarian. Your comment was a cheap shot. As I stated before I support all sectors of the beef industry, and I applaud you and your family's apparent success as a grass fed producer. I also recognize as a fellow producer that you should believe in your product and be proud of it, but it is a shame you continue to degrade the rest of the beef industry with your comments. As I stated once before, I'm glad your not our neighbor and I hope God gives you the good sense to stay on your side of the fence.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

Rancher250, well said!!! This W.E. character is clearly a part of the problem, and a very good reason to get defensive. This person continually slams conventional beef production in their comments, all the while "blowing their own horn" so to speak. It's a shame their marketing strategy is to degrade other sectors of the beef industry in an attempt to gain market share. We have to get defensive as fellow producers, when one of our own is out spreading this one sided garbage to the public.

on Mar 19, 2014

Debbie Norton with Graphic Arts of Topeka is a friend I've known for a long time and now a co-worker through her involvement in BEEF Vet, a sister publication written for large animal veteranarians. She sent me a very thoughtful and thought-provoking email about the blog, and I'm passing it along to you with her permission.

Burt Rutherford

Here's her email:

My opinion is--we must--I repeat, we must find a way to package our message in a very large, concise way, that what we do as an industry, is food production. It is a complicated system, but, we must hone our skills and language it in a way your college student can visually, emotionally and intellectually have a frame of reference.

I don't think using an emotional 'hook' is all bad. However, it seems to me we, as an industry can't distance ourselves from our own emotional statements long enough to use them on a consumer. We get angry, defensive and down right indignant when anyone questions our business models or methods.

We speak out of both sides of our mouths. We want a global consumer to "respect" history and all the connotations of the old west, yet we also want them to accept every piece of science and technology as gospel. I don't think we can have it both ways. That expectation feels disingenuous to me.

I, too, went to New York city a couple of years ago. It was my first visit and it was a cultural shock beyond my wildest imagination. My perception was oh so wrong. It was my first experience at observing millions of people from cabbies, street vendors, tour bus guides, hotel and restaurant service workers whose primary concerns were food and shelter. I saw several small neighborhood bodegas, but no Walmart. It was, on a visceral level, the first time I had some semblance of understanding food insecurity. After all, while I've definitely had financial insecurities, I've never missed a meal because I did not have food.

My time in NYC was spent in Manhattan. After doing a little math, I was shocked to realize that a ranch in western Kansas that I am familiar with is four and a half times the size of Manhattan and 12 million people a day go there. The salient point is we want the consumer to embrace what we do. We want the consumer to love us and appreciate our heritage and recognize the hard work and financial and emotional investment we put into production agriculture. But, we are not willing to reciprocate.

While your daughter provided excellent insight from her attorney perspective, my Marketing 101 kicks in. If we are to win this battle with the activists, elitists and uninformed we must know them better than they know themselves. And we don't. We don't really know who they are. We don't respect their ethnicities or their cultures, yet we want them to respect ours. We want them to understand an incredibly complex system, when they are telling us they want assurances their food is safe and is affordable.

As you and I both know, this is a discussion that could go on ad infinitum. My concern is that you and your readers are having the discussion and nothing happens until the next grenade is lobbed at us by the public. Those in control of the small pool of money and influence do very little to move the needle of social acceptance for an industry with a formidable challenge ahead to do our part to feed a planet.

on Mar 19, 2014

Posted above.

Dawn Butzer (not verified)
on Mar 20, 2014

Every new science is approached with caution due to the fear of the unknown. See my quote below. However, we must continue with level heads and continue to provide the facts.

“It is unknown what long term health consequences may unfold. The studies are not adequate. Furthermore, this will likely not be available or cost effective for small farmers, it will decrease product acceptance and consumption, and will be catastrophic to small farming operations”. Quote from the introduction of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance in 1924.

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What's BEEF Editors' Blog?

Everyday musings from BEEF Editors on the latest beef industry news and events.


Burt Rutherford

Burt has more than 35 years of experience communicating about beef industry issues. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works...

Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

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