Monday, April 20, 2009

How to defeat the "Meat + Methane" & the Attack of the Vegans

Zegna suspending his contest for the best Australian fleece because of PETA-inspired bad publicity over mulesing should ring alarm bells for meat producers. The ham-fisted way the wool industry handled the response to a consumer activist group should be the gold standard for what not to do when attacked. The MLA, it appears, did not learn that lesson.

The advertising campaign featuring the cryptic reference to Earth Hour (visual: a clock, hands made from cattle and sheep), the message: it’s always Earth Hour in the meat producing industries) was a brave attempt to take on what could be the greatest threat to the industry’s future. But it shows that the MLA’s strategists do not understand what they are up against. It will be PETA repeated.

There are four fatal mistakes a producer group can make when facing such a challenge from consumer activists:

FATAL MISTAKE NO.1. Not knowing it is an issue until the consumer groups are well-organised and well-resourced. The vegetarian, vegan, and animal rights groups were publishing advertisements in US magazines 2 years ago. Anyone with Google could have picked them up when they appeared. It’s hard to manage a public issue when you are blind-sided and starting on the back foot. AWI were on the back foot with PETA from the start. The MLA is as well.
FATAL MISTAKE NO.2. Underestimating the strength of the opposition’s public support. Dismissing them as fringe lunatics. The organizations behind the ‘Meat = Methane’ campaign include the United Nation’s FAO and WWF and the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who set the rules for Climate Change targets. They are not considered lunatics by world opinion leaders.

FATAL MISTAKE NO.3. Underestimating the strength of the opposition’s argument. The superficial logic of the ‘Meat = Methane’ argument is easier to believe than the ‘Farmers = Environmentalists’, which is what the MLA countered with, an entirely unbelievable proposition, even if it was the truth. The first rule of communications is: Perception is reality. If the average person believes something, it is real. Does the average city-dweller think farmers are environmentalists or do they think they are environmental vandals? OK. The second rule of communications is that people don't change their minds simply by being told that the opposite to what they believe is true.

FATAL MISTAKE NO.4. Choosing to fight on their battleground: For instance, answering their arguments directly, as though a propaganda war is about who has the best facts, gives the activists too much crediblity. The MLA should know better after the AWI debacle, which was a classic case of bad generalship.

A good general chooses the battlefield. Instead of fighting a losing battle on Meat and Methane, the MLA has one ally more powerful than the activists: the meat eater. There are millions of meat lovers and only a handful of vegans and even fewer 'meat = methane' activists. The MLA could enlist McDonald’s, etc. to urge their customers to join the “Save the Burger” Campaign by signing a petition to go to the Prime Minister. Stage a rally in the city square. Television advertising on this theme could actually increase sales to reward the fast food chains. Bumper stickers could read: “I Love Meat and I Vote”.

Imagine staging a national "No Meat Day" by getting all the meat outlets to 'strike' for a day tobring the danger of the "Meat = Methane" threat to their attention. Only the MLA could pull it off.

At the same time a good general knows when to counter attack and where: at the point where the enemy is weakest. Vegetarians have the highest rates of eating disorders in western societies**. Eating disorders are largely due to psychological problems such as low self esteem and lack of emotional stability. Vegans are even more prone. Questions in Parliament could crystalise the issue crudely: Does the global community want the world’s future decided by potential nut cases? Will we become a nation of bulmia sufferers under the Rule of the Vegetable?

The MLA can then use medical authorities to support the nutritional value of a meat-inclusive diet, as a follow-up strategy that demonstrates how "fringe" the activists are. Finally, scientists working on the methane issue go public with their findings (which are that • herd sizes may fall as more efficient, less-emitting genetic strains are developed; • inoculants can reduce rumen activity; • pasture management can eliminate much of the methane emitted by animals by providing them with fresh fodder as often as possible, etc.) This action reassures the public that the methane issue is being handled without the need for radical changes to their diet.

*Michael Kiely spent 25 years in marketing before becoming a woolgrower and founding the Carbon Coalition Against Global Warming to campaign for soil carbon credits in 2005.

** See Finnegan, B., "Vegetarianism & Disrdered Eating", National Easting Disorder Information Centre,Toronto, Canada, There is a body of research, including the following: Neumark-Sztainer D., et al. 1997. Adolescent vegetarians: A behavioral profile of a school-based population in Minnesota. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine,
151(8): 833-838. Klop, Sheree, et al. 2003. Self-reported vegetarianism may be a marker for college
women at risk for disordered eating. Archives of Journal of American Dietetic
Association, 103:745-747.

1 comment:

ali said...

As a vegan, I honestly don't think anyone is being "attacked". It's as if livestock producers are a country of their own with their own interests. Hey, it's a job although there's an amount of tradition tied up into it. But being an agriculturalist doesn't make you a part of a nation in itself, we are all in this together.