With prices soaring, it’s easy to forget our industry faces some serious challenges. As an industry, we’ve always relied heavily on science as the main weapon against those who attack us. I’ve come to believe we must rethink this strategy, not because a science-based approach is wrong, but because science has become so politicized that it’s really no longer science.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about attacks on the nutrition/food safety front, the environmental/global warming issue, or today’s animal welfare initiatives. The folks attacking us are the same people and they utilize the same strategy, which is becoming more refined all the time.
The assault on meat in the diet began years ago from the diet/health standpoint; it continues to this day. Oddly enough, we’re just now beginning to understand the relationship between fat and heart disease or even cholesterol for that matter, and we’re learning that the relationship between meat and a whole host of diseases that have become part of the popular perception may not actually exist.
The process to mislead, discredit and misinform via science has been very effective, and it is progressing. Despite the actual science being unsettled and the research results contradictory, activists choose to preach that the science is settled and then set out to quash any dissent. They do this by politicizing the scientific process in the framework of political correctness to the point that any opposing view or science is deemed irrelevant and eventually unfunded. A great example of this is that USDA research dollars today typically only go toward projects that invoke the magic words of sustainability, the environment and global warming.
Sad to say, that is the shape and use of science today. The ingredient list for a successful campaign is to adopt your activist position, champion the role of government in protecting us all, and then invoke the principles that capitalism, big business and free enterprise are bad. The final ingredient is a radical, politically motivated group that will say and do anything to advance its agenda (vegans, extreme environmentalists, the Humane Society of the U.S., etc.).
Recognize that Al Gore won an Oscar and a Nobel Prize for promoting a litany of half-truths and out-and-out distortions and you realize how successful and easy it is to advance this strategy. It worked on nutrition, it’s had tremendous success with global warming, and it’s the strategy being utilized today on the animal welfare front.
Certainly we should always make sure our policies are scientifically based and scientifically sound. However, science from a public policy standpoint isn’t what we were taught in school, and we’ve been slow as an industry to adapt to the politicizing and downgrading of science.
Science is now just a tool in a larger public relations campaign, and our focus has to be on winning those debates. It’s not enough to merely win public perception, however. In today’s world you can do that and still lose; you have to have passion equal to that of the opposition.
Ironically, while I know of fewer people more passionate than ranchers, this may be our greatest failure. We haven’t figured out how to beat the passion of those who take up these causes with an almost religious zeal. Certainly the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association does a great job, but it’s undermanned, underfunded and fighting on too many fronts. Since cattlemen are busy trying to make a living, take care of the environment and their animals, and provide a safe and wholesome product, we often fail to create the type of grassroots support that is needed. But it’s an issue we must address.
-- Troy Marshall