When a crisis such as a public health concern hits an organization or industry, it is often better to rip off the band-aid rather than let the crisis worsen. The National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) ran into such crises and quickly took action to convince the public that their beef products were safe.
Beef producers encountered a series of media reports that alleged that the beef sold in stores had a substance in it called “pink slime”. The media reports created a public outcry with grocery stores pulling beef including the mixture from their shelves while the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defended its use in school lunches. NCBA responded fast to the media reports. First, NCBA released a statement on “pink slime” which they called “lean finely textured beef”. Later, NCBA sought and received the support of state leaders in states such as Iowa and Texas where the beef industry employs many of their residents. USDA representatives including the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also joined NCBA in affirming the safety of American beef. So far, the media reports of pink slime have led to the loss of 650 jobs in beef processing states.
The second kerfuffle came about when a cow in Central California tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) also know as mad cow disease. The NCBA had changed its feeding practices for cattle after the last break out of the disease. NCBA’s Cattle Health and Well-being Committee Chairman supported the efforts of the USDA in testing for BSE. They emphasized that the cow was not meant for human consumption. They also provided facts of what the government and NCBA are doing to make sure beef is safe from BSE.
NCBA has taken tactics to assure the public of the safety of beef through cooperation with regulators and educating the media about what beef producers are doing. The mixed reports pervading the media created misinformation that hurt NCBA’s members and the industry. A larger public information campaign may be necessary through partners such as grocery stores, farming associations, and youth programs to improve the reputation of beef and ensure consumer confidence.