Beef industry media analysis – January-March 2010
Beef industry media analysis – January-March 2010
The occurrence of the Great American Meatout in March generated news stories on events in various communities across the nation, as well as letters to editors and columns celebrating the campaign. Notably, Michigan governor Granholm’s proclamation of "Michigan Meatout Day" received attention in several stories that often featured agriculture or protein industry officials critical of her decision.
The HBO film "Temple Grandin" garnered several stories on the piece itself and the woman upon which the movie was based. Frequently, this coverage positively discussed Grandin’s contribution to improving animal handling in the livestock industry.
Interaction between cattle and wildlife generated media attention this quarter regarding wolf management plans. While this topic appears consistently in the beef industry media analysis, there was a noticeable shift in the dialogue this quarter as several states pushed to regain control of wolf management from the federal government.
U.S. beef industry media coverage declined for the third consecutive quarter to 929 reports for January-March 2010, a 10 percent decline from October-December 2009. The favorability of January-March coverage increased by 2 points to a still neutral 47 rating, while unfavorable coverage declined 5 percentage points to represent 34 percent of overall reporting. Favorable coverage increased 4 percentage points, while neutral coverage increased 1 percentage point to represent 16 percent and 50 percent of reporting, respectively.
Economics remained the most prominent issue in beef industry coverage this quarter, despite a 5 percent decline in volume from last quarter. With 334 reports, economics reporting comprised 36 percent of the industry’s coverage.
Environmental reporting declined 20 percent this quarter to 229 reports that averaged a neutral 46 rating. Compared to the same period a year ago, however, environmental reporting increased 11 percent due to more coverage about cattle and wildlife, and cattle and public lands. Continuing media attention on wolf management and the federal government’s plan to round up wild horses drove such reporting this quarter.
Nutrition/health coverage increased 16 percent to 228 reports this period, of which nearly half discussed nutritional vegetarianism. Reports on nutrition and health were slightly negative overall, averaging a 41 favorability rating, up one rating point from the prior period.
Beef safety reporting declined a substantial 34 percent this quarter. In fact, with 224 reports, the issue’s volume of coverage was its lowest since the fourth quarter of 2008. While media attention on recalls and foodborne illnesses and beef subsided, reporting on antibiotic use in livestock more than doubled and became a prominent source of unfavorable coverage for the industry.
Media attention on animal rights/welfare edged slightly higher, as the issue garnered 189 reports, four stories more than last quarter. The tenor of this media discussion improved slightly, as coverage averaged a 43 rating, up 2 points.
Traditional media coverage of beef and cattle industry issues is analyzed through a special service called CARMA (Computer- Aided Research and Media Analysis). The beef checkoff-funded issues management program commissions this analysis for tracking and responding to beef media coverage in the following areas: diet/health, environment, food safety, beef marketing, animal welfare and economics.
The CARMA system rates media coverage favorability on a scale of zero to 100 based on criteria including headline, length, placement, number and quality of favorable and unfavorable sources and general tone of an article. In this rating system, articles that fall in the 45-55 range are considered neutral or balanced. In the reports on ratings, favorable means favorable to the beef industry.
Because a single article can address more than one issue, it may be analyzed as part of more than one issue area. Therefore, article volume and percentages across the issue areas will not add up.
Economics remained the leading issue category discussed in beef industry reporting this quarter, garnering 335 reports that comprised 36 percent of the total volume of stories. The prominence of economics in beef reporting occurred despite the issue’s volume of stories decreasing by 5 percent from the prior period, due to less discussion of packer issues, and by 18 percent from the same quarter a year ago, as reporting on beef prices and foreign trade issues diminished. Notably, the quality of economics coverage improved slightly, with favorability increasing 2 points from last period to a still-neutral 50 rating this quarter, as the overall U.S. economy picked up and prospects of greater access for American beef to foreign markets brightened.
"Beef industry and the U.S. economy" continued to be the most prominent sub-issue in economics reporting. While coverage only increased by a single story from last quarter, attention on the beef industry in the context of the U.S. economy increased 48 percent from the year ago period to 96 reports this quarter, reflecting heightened media interest in the welfare of the nation’s agricultural industry as the U.S. economy slowly rebounds.
Discussion of the beef industry and the U.S. economy spanned a wide variety of topics, which varied significantly in terms of favorability, ranging from strongly negative to extremely positive. A few of the most unfavorable reports addressing beef industry economics discussed financial and employment matters. For example, a March 15 Reuters
article reported that credit conditions in the agriculture industry remained strained and that livestock producers were showing increasing financial troubles due to higher feed costs. On the employment front, a highly unfavorable Associated Press
article published by the Oregonian
highlighted a weak job market for cowboys and ranch hands. According to the story, jobs had already been reduced over the past few decades because mechanization and other efficiencies reduced the need, but the situation was worsened due to declining herds and the recession hampering beef demand. Also, as cattle and beef prices have not kept pace with production costs, ranchers reportedly are focusing on controlling what costs they can, such as hiring. Yet, the article concluded on an optimistic note, reporting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Economic Research Service forecasts better times for beef producers this year, with higher prices and exports, while National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) spokesperson Tom Field assured readers of the industry’s longterm prospects, declaring: "I think there is an absolutely fantastic future for ranchers" (March 28). Still, such favorable sentiments were outweighed by the article's discussion of the poor job market and ranchers stressed by the economy.
Nonetheless, there were also several favorable stories discussing employment or focused on the industry's improving prospects. For example, an Associated Press
news brief on the new owner of the former Agriprocessors plant in Iowa announcing job openings was published by several Midwest media outlets ( Jan. 30). Also, an article entitled, "Meat still means jobs," appeared on the front page of the Omaha World-Herald's
"Money" section, reporting that although the number of meatpacking plants has trended lower in the region, the number of jobs has held steady. The piece highlighted how the industry has improved the value of each animal slaughtered by extracting specialized and boneless cuts ( Jan. 27).
Furthermore, several stories on the 2010 Cattle Industry Annual Convention in San Antonio reported on the industry emphasizing collaboration, innovation and technology to ensure a more prosperous future in the face of challenges posed by the economy, animal rights activists and politicians. Also, several stories appearing toward the end of the first quarter either indicated a positive outlook or reported a return to profitability as tight supplies coupled with increased demand to improve cattle and beef pricing. Such attention on stabilization in the beef industry and glimmers of growth resulted in the favorability of reporting on the beef industry and the U.S. economy to inch higher by one point to a neutral 52 rating.
Attention on "foreign trade" (73 reports, 51 rating) remained prevalent in economics reporting this period, despite a 15 percent decline in coverage on the sub-issue. The favorability of trade stories slightly improved by 2 points to a neutral 51 rating even as the tenor of reporting remained mixed. Limits on beef exports to Asia continued to be a source of international tension. Early in January, the media reported that the Taiwanese legislature voted to reinstate a ban on certain beef imports, spurring several U.S. legislators to criticize the ban. According to the Omaha World-Herald
, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called the ban "scientifically unfounded and unnecessary" ( Jan. 18), while a Reuters
piece cited Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., reminding Taiwan, "The United States and Taiwan agreed, on the basis of science-based international standards and Taiwan’s own risk assessments, that U.S. beef is safe for import into Taiwan" ( Jan. 20).
Attention on beef trade with Japan was also prominent in the first quarter. Notably, Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., cited the Japanese auto industry’s current safety issues to draw comparisons to that country’s ban on U.S. beef, remarking during a Senate auto safety hearing, "What if we said that until the Japanese government can assure us that all the defects are out of these vehicles we are just not going to accept any vehicles from Japan? Well, that’s exactly what they did to the beef industry" (Omaha World-Herald
, March 5). Johanns vigorously defended U.S. beef against Japan's restrictions in an appearance on "Your World with Neil Cavuto" on Fox News (March 3). Beef trade with Japan again appeared in the news with the election of a new ruling party. This coverage often mentioned the American position that the Japanese beef ban has no scientific basis, but downplayed the possibility of a breakthrough in negotiations. According to Reuters
, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack referred to the change in administration only as an "opportunity" to renegotiate beef trade, saying that he hoped to "create a framework in which we get to a point where there is a reopening of this market" (March 30) Overall, foreign trade coverage was neutral this period, as trade restrictions remained in place and U.S. officials strongly advocated for action to increase export markets accessible to U.S. beef.
Environmental reporting accounted for 24 percent of the beef industry's coverage this quarter, a marked increase in prominence from the same period in 2009, when such media attention comprised only 16 percent of the industry’s coverage. The volume of environmental reporting has also grown compared to the first quarter of 2009, from 207 reports to 225 reports this quarter. "Cattle and wildlife" remained the most prevalent environmental sub-issue this quarter (90 reports that averaged a neutral 51 rating). Media attention on the interaction between cattle and wildlife focused on wolf and wild horse management. The continuing debate over the management of the wolf population shifted this quarter to state government’s dissatisfaction with the federal government’s wolf management plans. In Utah, legislators sought to assert the state’s right to control the wolf population by capturing or killing any wolves found in the state. The proposed state legislation is at odds with the wolf population’s federal protection through the endangered species list, but Utah state senator Allen Christensen said the state is ready to fight the federal law in the interest of keeping the state virtually wolf free. News reports about the proposed legislation noted that the Utah Cattleman's Association supported the bill and that wolves have been blamed for killing livestock and causing financial loss for ranchers (Salt Lake Tribune
, Jan. 22). Meanwhile, state legislators passed a bill increasing compensation to ranchers for livestock killed or injured by wolves, which was a source of favorable reporting for the industry.
Cattle and wildlife reporting also included news about the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) plan to remove 2,500 wild horses in the west. The livestock industry was featured prominently in these discussions as many activists argued that the horses were being removed from the area to protect cattle grazing on the public lands the horses occupy. Letters-to-the-editor regarding the wild horse round-up criticized the BLM as well as the livestock industry, including one letter that argued, "Positive change would save our horses and save money by reducing welfare ranching and cattle grazing through public land-lease buyouts, a long-term and much more constructive approach that would also reduce global warming caused by livestock" (San Francisco Chronicle
, Jan. 2).
Interestingly, some environmental groups actually joined ranching interests in favor of the roundup. According to an Associated Press
report, the Sierra Club and Friends of Nevada Wildlife announced that they supported the wild horse plan as the uncontrolled population threatened native wildlife and sagebrush ( Jan. 16). On the whole, neutral and positive news reports about the interaction of cattle and wildlife mitigated the impact of negative letters–to-the-editor from wildlife advocates, resulting in a neutral average rating for cattle and wildlife coverage. In fact, the favorability of cattle and wildlife reporting improved two points from last quarter to a 51 rating.
"Cattle and global warming" (34 reports, 42 rating) was the second most prominent sub-issue for environmental reporting this quarter, despite a nearly 60 percent decline in the volume of reports from last period. While media attention on cattle and global warming was driven by the global climate change summit in Copenhagen last period, no similar event prompted heavy attention this quarter. As is typical for cattle and global warming, a majority of the sub-issues coverage consisted of unfavorable opinion pieces and letters-tothe- editor linking cattle production and meat consumption with global warming. Several of these pieces cited the disputed United Nations (UN) statistic that livestock production is accountable for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
However, this quarter, the industry received positive media attention regarding a report that disputed the UN statistic as a miscalculation of livestock’s contribution to global warming. The report generated highly favorable coverage as the author, Dr. Frank Mitloehner, argued that the focus on greenhouse gas emissions tied to livestock production is misguided and that "giving cows and pigs a bum rap is not only scientifically inaccurate but also distracts society from embracing effective solutions to global climate change" (Des Moines Register
, March 28). Despite the favorable coverage generated by Mitloehner’s report, the favorability of cattle and global warming improved only 1 point from last quarter to a slightly negative 42 rating due to persistent negative opinion pieces.
Nutrition/health reporting this quarter was modestly less negative, averaging a slightly unfavorable 41 rating versus a moderately unfavorable 40 rating last period, as negative attention on beef and school lunches diminished. In addition to fewer stories this quarter discussing school lunches, which had been among the most unfavorable nutrition/health topics last period, the tenor of school lunch reporting overall improved. Whereas last period’s reporting included numerous articles questioning the safety of beef served in schools, this quarter’s coverage included several stories featuring companies in the meat industry defending the quality of beef served in schools, sold at restaurants and found in grocery stores. For instance, on Jan. 1, the Associated Press
published an account of companies such as Cargill Inc. and McDonald's Corp. adamantly assuring the safety of the meat they purchase from Beef Products Inc. after a New York Times’
piece from the prior day claimed the company’s bacteria-fighting procedures were ineffective and that it was distributing potentially unsafe beef to schools and other outlets. The Houston Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News
and Tulsa World
were among newspapers to publish a version of this Associated Press
report. Such coverage was moderately to solidly favorable, helping to improve the tone of school lunch reporting overall and thereby the favorability of total nutrition/health reporting. Still, nutrition/health coverage remained negative on the whole due largely to attention to nutritional vegetarianism.
Nutritional vegetarianism comprised 105 stories, or 46 percent of all nutrition/health reporting this quarter. The topic’s favorability continued its trend lower, registering a solidly negative 35 favorability rating in January- March 2010, which represented a 1-point decline from the prior quarter and a 3-point drop from the year ago period. When factoring out articles also discussing environmental or ethical vegetarianism, there were 78 reports this period addressing vegetarianism or veganism strictly from a nutrition or health perspective, which averaged a moderately negative 37 rating. This coverage was largely comprised of opinion pieces and letters-to-editors espousing meat-free diets for improved health generally or specifically to stave off maladies such as heart disease, cancer and obesity.
The 25th anniversary of "Meatout" month in March also prompted media discussion of vegetarianism. For example, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
published a piece from Steve Petusevsky's "Vegetarian Today" column entitled, "Vegetarianism Goes Mainstream," which discussed how food producers, restaurants and supermarkets have increased the quality and selection of vegetarian food options considerably over the past couple of decades. Notably, the piece suggested that "Meatout" and vegetarianism are increasingly credible, as the "rapid growth of diabetes and obesity indicate that eating more plant-based foods make sense" (March 18). Furthermore, "The YOU Docs" column, penned by doctors Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, who were the leading bylines of nutrition/ health reporting this period, also frequently discussed vegetarianism. Such discussion offered advice on adhering to a vegetarian diet and touted the benefits of going meatless. For example, in one widely published "YOU Docs" column, the doctors advise a questioner on how to obtain sufficient protein in a meat-free diet and additionally praise vegetarianism, declaring: "Vegetarians Overall tend to be healthier than carnivores; they’re thinner, have lower lousy (LDL) cholesterol, higher healthy (HDL) cholesterol, better blood pressure and are less prone to heart disease, diabetes and cancer." Several media outlets published this column, including the Chicago Sun-Times, San Jose Mercury News
and South Florida Sun-Sentinel
. Notably, the Sun-Sentinel
also published a harsh letter equating meat to heroin, declaring: "The quest for safe meat is like the quest for safe heroin. Rather than continue using a substance known to be potentially dangerous and even deadly, why not just discontinue using it altogether, unless one is addicted?" ( Jan. 31). Attention on nutritional vegetarianism was most influenced by such letters and additional opinion pieces urging readers to forgo meat for better general health or to combat a certain malady, contributing substantially to the negative favorability of nutrition/health reporting overall.
With 224 articles, beef safety experienced a 34 percent decrease in its reporting from last quarter, resulting in the lowest volume of reports for the issue since the fourth quarter of 2008. Despite a 52 percent drop in the volume of reports from last quarter, "pathogens and beef " remained the leading beef safety sub-issue, appearing in more than 40 percent of the issue’s articles. The safety of ground beef continued to be a large contributor to reporting on pathogens and beef. Beef Products, Inc.’s process of treating ground beef with ammonia to kill pathogens received heavy attention toward the beginning of the quarter. The New York Times
was particularly critical of this process, and published an editorial arguing the company’s ammonia treated beef had a significantly higher presence of pathogens including E. coli
as evidenced by testing conducted by the National School Lunch Program ( Jan. 11). Furthermore, the highly negative piece criticized USDA for a lack of oversight, alleging that officials at the agency were not even aware of the problem. The New York Times
subsequently published several critical letters-to-the-editors in response to the piece, including one that read: "By approving the revolting and often ineffective use of ammonia to sanitize the results of substandard meat processing, [USDA] has chosen the profits of big business over food safety for all Americans" ( Jan. 10).
Letters from NCBA and American Meat Institute spokespeople defended the industry's safety practices, including NCBA's executive director of research, Mandy Carr Johnson, who asserted, "E. coli
O157:H7 and other foodborne threats are tough, adaptable foes. But the people who raise and package beef share a commitment to aggressively finding and applying safety solutions that keep them out of our food" (New York Times
, Jan. 17). Industry officials and restaurant chains also came out in defense of the process in a favorable Associated Press
report that appeared in several daily newspapers. In the article, Beef Products spokesman Richard Jochum explained that the ammonia treatment was just one facet of the company’s safety procedures, stating "We intend to continue as a leader in food safety efforts" ( Jan. 1). Overall, the favorability of reporting on pathogens and beef improved by 4 points from last quarter to a slightly negative 42 rating due in part to favorable reporting in which the industry defended their safety practices.
Later in the quarter, "meat inspection/ testing programs" generated media attention when USA Today
published a series of followup articles pertaining to its investigative report about the safety of meat in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) last quarter. The first of these reports announced USDA would be taking steps to ensure that the food in the NSLP, particularly tightening safety and testing standards for ground beef (Feb. 5). A separate report detailed the specifics of several possible methods the beef industry is considering to reduce the levels of E. coli
bacteria in cattle, with a specific focus on methods that address the pathogen prior to slaughter. The highly favorable report called this new approach to containing E. coli a "major shift" in the industry’s safety practices (USA Today
, Feb. 8). Finally, the outlet announced that USDA changes to meat testing protocols for the NSLP would be instituted over the summer. The announcement was made during the National Meat Association conference, and association head Barry Carpenter expressed his hope that USDA would consider "what the industry is able to do now for the most discriminating, large-scale commercial buyers, and then set new standards consistent with that. If they do, I’m comfortable the industry will adjust and not miss a beat" (USA Today
, Feb. 15).
Other reporting on meat inspection and testing programs included a strongly positive piece that described the various methods the meat industry currently uses to ensure the safety of the country’s beef supply, including irradiation, ammonia, and tenderizing (Orlando Sentinel
, Feb. 21). Overall, reporting on meat inspection and testing programs averaged a slightly unfavorable 44 rating, due to negative reporting on problems with current safety standards.
"Antibiotics" was also a prevalent subissue in this quarter's beef safety reporting, with 51 reports that averaged a moderately unfavorable 37 rating. Nearly half of these reports consisted of opinion pieces and letters-to-the-editor, many of which suggested that antibiotics were overused in livestock animals, which was putting humans at risk for developing antibiotic resistant infections. New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a highly negative piece arguing the use of antibiotics on "factory farms" is a large contributor to antibiotic resistant infections. Kristof ’s column cited the Union of Concerned Scientists statistic that 70 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are used to treat healthy livestock and 16 percent are used to treat sick livestock (New York Times
, March 7). This column prompted a sprinkling of letters-to-the-editor that expressed mixed views toward the beef industry. On the positive end, cattle rancher Anne Burkholder wrote that her family considers the care of their cattle a top priority and "that means using antibiotics in a judicious way, in accordance with our Beef Quality Assurance training and in cooperation with our veterinarian" (New York Times
, March 9). A more critical letter argued that health-care lobbyists should begin challenging agribusiness lobbyists and pushing for the restricted use of antibiotics in livestock (New York Times
, March 7). These letters echoed the arguments presented in antibiotics reporting throughout the quarter as consumers and industry officials alike expressed their views on the effects of antibiotic use in livestock on public health.
Reporting on animal rights comprised 189 stories this period and accounted for 20 percent of total beef industry reporting. Notably, from a year ago, coverage increased 34 percent, due to heightened attention on cruelty in production practices, ethical vegetarianism, animal medicine and factory farming.
"Cruelty in production practices" was the leading animal rights sub-issue this period. Seventy-nine reports discussed the topic, representing a 49 percent increase from last quarter and a 61 percent increase from the year ago period. This reporting averaged a moderately negative 40 rating, the same performance as in the first quarter of 2009 but a 2 point improvement from the preceding period. Several states working to enhance livestock care laws or to create new regulatory and advisory boards prompted numerous reports throughout the quarter discussing cruelty in production practices; such coverage ranged from slightly negative to solidly positive. The less favorable attention stemmed from reports on Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards Board that discussed another ballot measure being put to a vote in the fall that would require stricter anti-cruelty measures opposed by the agricultural community. The Columbus Dispatch
published letters in support of the Ohioans for Humane Farms ballot initiative that commonly referred to the Livestock Care Standards Board as a "tool" of agribusiness interests, with one letter declaring: "Elected officials have been feeding at the trough of factory farms for so long, they either don’t know or don’t care that Ohio has such weak animal-cruelty laws" (March 12).
Meanwhile, reporting on Kentucky's efforts to establish a livestock care commission was often favorable. In such coverage, Kentucky's commission was depicted as pre-empting animal rights groups seeking to enact treatment standards. For example, state senator David Givens, R-Greensburg, explained, "The goal of this legislature is to create a commission that provides a vehicle for defining practical animal care standards from a scientific approach, rather than an emotion-driven conversation" (The Courier-Journal
, March 18). Similarly, an Associated Press
story favorably cited veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven in discussing South Dakota’s efforts to update its animal treatment laws. On animal rights group being excluded from the state review panel, Oedekoven remarked, "Those groups are not really interested in humane practices for livestock but probably the elimination of livestock production for food" ( Jan. 31).
HBO's film "Temple Grandin," which premiered in February, also generated positive discussion of animal welfare in production practices and the sub-issue "animal medicine, treatment" (47 reports, 51 rating). Coverage of the movie based on the life of autistic pioneer and livestock specialist Temple Grandin frequently addressed how Grandin’s innovations spurred much of the nation’s cattle industry to improve cattle handling, from routine inoculation to slaughter. While such stories largely focused more on aspects of Grandin’s autism than her work with the cattle industry, this coverage often depicted her as having revolutionized or otherwise improved how the industry cares for its livestock. Notably, a solidly favorable "NPR: Talk of the Nation" interview with Grandin featured her wax eloquent about ranchers and her motivation for working in the industry: "One of the reasons why I’m still in the meat industry is when I first start[ed] out in cattle back in Arizona, there were a few ranchers that did an excellent job… they did beautiful care of their animals. And I could see that cattle, when they’re done right, could have a good life. In fact, the cow that raises the calf is always been free range, and that’s true whether that meat goes to Whole Foods or it goes to Tyson" ( Jan. 27). Attention on the Grandin film improved the tone of reporting on welfare in production practices, but the sub-issue’s coverage remained moderately negative overall due to numerous letters-to-editors and columns advocating vegetarianism, reduced meat consumption or eating only organic or natural beef because of concerns that conventional cattle farming is cruel to the animals.
"Ethical vegetarianism" (49 reports, 34 rating) was the least favorable leading sub-issue of animal rights reporting; while the number of stories addressing the topic decreased 25 percent from last quarter, this represented a 39 percent volume increase from the year ago period. Attention on ethical vegetarianism was solidly negative, with articles averaging a 34 rating, a 4-point improvement from last period. Media discussion of the topic continued to be largely driven by the publication of letters-to-editors and op-ed pieces advocating vegetarianism out of concern for the welfare of animals, several of which cited the conditions of factory farms as being deplorable and cause for avoiding meat consumption. Notably, several letters appeared in The Oregonian
in response to the newspaper publishing a profile on vegetarians-turned-flexitarian who perceive meat consumption as acceptable so long as it is the "ethical" variety of locally, humanely raised meat ( Jan. 26). These letters railed against the suggestion that any meat consumption can be ethical, with one posting: "Killing for our taste buds, exploiting those who are powerless against us--is this really how we want to live? Why hurt others?" ( Jan. 28). This type of negative editorial content accounted for a majority of reports discussing ethical vegetarianism, resulting in overall media attention on the animal rights sub-issue being solidly unfavorable this quarter.
This quarter, beef marketing reporting was dominated by "beef choices", which garnered 60 reports that accounted for 58 percent of beef marketing’s coverage. This represents an increase of 11 stories from last quarter, when the sub-issue generated 49 reports. Media attention on beef choices in a marketing context discussed a variety of topics, including butchering, the increasing popularity of kosher meat and organic meat and dairy regulatory changes. The New Year prompted several media outlets to publish stories predicting food trends for 2010, some of which listed a shift toward consumers going to butchers to buy meat. This was not necessarily positive toward the industry. For example, a 2010 food trend article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer
featured food trend analyst Phil Lempert, who explained that people are looking to butchers to help them choose meat as they grow increasingly concerned about "food safety, E. coli
and related issues" ( Jan. 6). Another story featured butcher and Culinary Institute of America professor Tom Schneller, who explained that he thinks the renewed interest in butchers is partly because of the different choices they offer to consumers, stating, "I see a good resurgence for niche-market butchers. They are cutting in a different way than supermarkets…there’s an upscale customer who is going to look for that" (Sacramento Bee
, March 10).
The rising popularity of kosher meat was also featured in beef choices coverage as many consumers viewed it as a superior beef choice than traditionally raised beef. One story about kosher meat reported that sales of kosher products increased 64 percent from 2003 to 2008, and that in a recent survey, consumers provided "food quality," "general healthfulness," and "food safety" as their top motivations for purchasing kosher products (Washington Post
, Feb. 2). Such stories also noted that the better safety of kosher meat in relation to traditionally produced meat had not been proven.
In February, USDA's announcement that it would be instituting more detailed rules for certified organic livestock contributed heavily to the volume of beef choices reporting. The rules reportedly drew the support of the industry and organic food advocates alike, who praised the clarity provided by the changes. "The sharpening of standards is something that we’ve wanted ever since, well, the organic laws came into existence," said organic dairy farmer Jim Goodman in a neutral article about the rules (Associated Press
, March 3). Such reports were largely neutral toward the industry as they focused more on organic dairy products than beef, and discussed the growth of the organic market in general.
The volume of vegetarianism reporting declined this period to 134 reports, down from 147 reports in the preceding quarter. Stories discussing vegetarianism were slightly more unfavorable this period, averaging a solidly negative 35 favorability rating versus a moderately negative 36 rating last quarter. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel
(10 reports, 32 rating) and the Oregonian
(10 reports, 33 rating) were the most prominent media to cover vegetarianism. The New York Times
was the least favorable leading media outlet with 9 reports that averaged a solidly unfavorable 31 rating.
Nutritional vegetarianism received the most media attention, with 104 reports that averaged a 34 rating. Of note, the 25th anniversary of Meatout in March prompted letters–to-the-editor and opinion pieces about the health benefits of adopting a meat-free diet. Additionally, a proclamation by Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm declaring March 20 "Michigan Meatout Day" generated several news stories, which primarily appeared in the Detroit Free Press
and Detroit News.
Although Gov. Granholm’s office stated that the proclamation was not intended to offend meat eaters, the governor’s proclamation suggested that a meat-free, plant-based diet "promotes good health and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases." Furthermore, the proclamation declared, "Reducing the consumption of meat or not eating meat at all can significantly decrease the exposure to infectious pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli
, and campylobacter" (Detroit Free Press
, March 17). Notably, coverage in Michigan aside from the just cited story was neutral toward the beef industry, as several politicians, the Michigan Farm Bureau and protein producers mitigated the intent of the meatout proclamation by criticizing the governor’s disregard for the importance of livestock production to the state economy. Still, the Great American Meatout generated unfavorable attention in additional media elsewhere in the country, with the publication of letters-to-the-editor and columns highlighting the day. For example, one letterwriter attested, "Several years ago, it was a local Meatout information table that gave me a new lease on life by turning me onto a healthful, nonviolent diet of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains" (Tulsa World
, March 20), while food columns in several newspapers included brief informational pieces on the campaign along with vegetarian recipes.
The volume of ethical vegetarianism stories declined 25 percent from last quarter to 49 reports this period. Attention on this type of vegetarianism was solidly negative, averaging a 34 rating. A majority of coverage discussing ethical vegetarianism consisted of lettersto- editors and opinion pieces. Notably, one of these letters was favorable, in which the writer conveyed his respect to an individual’s right to be a vegan but in turn asked those "militant" vegans to respect his right to enjoy a porterhouse. Nonetheless, this letter was of the minority sentiment by far in ethical vegetarianism coverage, as such stories more frequently advocated giving up meat because of compassion for animals in general or specifically due to the alleged deplorable condition of "factory farms."
Economics reporting indicated that a gradually improving U.S. economy and greater access to foreign markets would foster greater demand for beef, which in concert with near-term low cattle supplies will support higher prices at market. However, economics coverage also conveyed some concerns: Retail pressures to keep beef prices low as unemployment remains elevated, coupled with the heavy concentration of beef processing among a few companies and resurging feed and energy costs may hamper the benefits accrued by cattle farmers.
While media attention on cattle and global warming, and environmental vegetarianism waned this quarter, these sub-issues continued to be a prevalent source of negative reporting for the industry. This coverage was characterized by letters-to-the-editor arguing that livestock production is a major contributor to global warming. This quarter, however, a report disputing this fact generated highly favorable coverage for the industry when the study’s author dismissed commonly held beliefs about cattle and global warming.
The favorability of beef safety reporting increased 4 points from last quarter, particularly due to an improvement in the tone of coverage about pathogens and beef and meat inspection and testing programs. Media attention on beef safety problems within the National School Lunch Program persisted, but as USDA announced new testing requirements and the industry assured consumers that they were committed to high safety standards, the favorability of such coverage improved.
Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Issues Monitoring
June 30, 2010