Editorial: Could beef be the new butter?

Beef farmers have a right to feel a bit battered.

They are being slammed by many attacks in the mainstream media, often the result of lazy journalism being used to fill large volume website and social media post deadlines.

I see one of these pieces almost every day. It’s a popular, easy meme to propagate.

Beef farmer Ken Schaus called out Bloomberg News (usually a fairly serious purveyor of business news) on Twitter recently when they posted a short video, with no voice over and a few stats that panned beef’s health and environmental impact.

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This sort of click bait is challenging when it’s focused on your industry. There’s little balance and you can feel sorely put upon.

The language isn’t precise. “Beef COULD affect your health. Beef COULD be harmful to the environment.”

That means there’s an awful lot of fuzzy factor.

Unfortunately, despite a movement in some areas of social media marketing to quality interactions, many companies are still spewing click-bait – as much information and as tricksy as you can make it sound in order to generate clicks. Serious information organizations, like Bloomberg, are doing this. The Weather Network also provoked the ire of some Ontario farmers with a tweet about getting dogs off their meat diet because of the environmental implications.

Some speculate that it’s a grand conspiracy against livestock. As someone with some experience in the communications and social media business, I think that would be overly generous to those creating the content.

Content farms need content and unfortunately, livestock is an easy target for people who aren’t connected to farming at all. Meat = Bad is simple and easy and logical math to some. The problem is nuance and depth are sacrificed. Dissing meat is also harmful to health by minimizing the powerpack nature of meat and dairy, not to mention to those who work hard making their livelihood from raising animals.

People are confused about the message they are getting about food. I recently sat through a presentation by researchers working for Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) who looked at consumer opinions about food.

Dairy farmers are getting hit almost as often as beef farmers when it comes to health and environment. Consumers are not sure who to trust. They are looking for authenticity. According to the DFO research, all of the messaging was better received when it came from a farmer. Sean Bedt, director of marketing and business development at DFO, said there’s no doubt that consumers want to hear from farmers about food. The trust level remains in farmers.

What most consumers want is relatively simple. The DFO research found they want to be able to trust that their food is safe, their food is good for them and will power their body healthily, and that the impact of eating those foods isn’t exorbitant.

Farmers are likely tired of hearing that they are the ones who have to tell their stories, and many have no interest in the responsibility that entails, but they are the best ones to give consumers the information they need. Whether they like it or not.

Give consumers the strong and healthy messaging that is legitimately available for meat and dairy products. Then hopefully, some day, meat will have its day like butter, and its dramatic increase in consumption in the past five years, when the market turns and the health message gets through.

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We continue to grow at Farmtario. Thanks for all of your support and kind comments as we endeavour to build an information source for Ontario farmers online and in print that is new and different, but most importantly, useful. Check out Seed Ontario in our Jan. 28 edition of the newspaper, a seed reference tool for farmers created in partnership with the Ontario Seed Growers Association. Welcome also to Jennifer Betzner, our first full-time reporter. She has a diverse background in agriculture and we’re excited to have her on board.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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