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It’s time for offense, not defense in the “meat wars”

Meat and animal industry associations do a very good job of gathering scientific evidence and obtaining input from nutrition experts to respond to these types of reports, but this approach is not enough.

By H. Russell Cross

The recently released EAT-Lancet report is the most negative report regarding animal products for food to date and is being launched with an extensive world-wide delivery. While the nutritional benefits of meat are well established as an efficient dietary source of complete protein, the report recommends a 90% reduction in consumption of beef and pork and 50% reduction of eggs, while tripling consumption of beans and quadrupling nuts and seeds. 

The report also claims that meat consumption kills 2.4 million people per year at $285 billion in health-related costs.

The meat industry has been at war against misinformation for some time but is being significantly outgunned. The meat industry is losing this information “war!” 

READ: Meat and your mood: Why beef makes you happy

Meat and animal industry associations do a very good job of gathering scientific evidence and obtaining input from nutrition experts to respond to these types of reports, but this approach is not enough.  When a negative report is due to be released, the industry is always on the defense—gathering information and preparing to respond with science. 

This approach is necessary, but it is not enough! It is not effective at countering emotionally-held beliefs, thus the industry continues to lose the war of delivering sound nutritional advice. Meat industry professionals and academic scientists must devise a long-term strategy to get ahead of the game. 

Collectively, this organized group must be thinking years ahead to develop a sophisticated game plan that will be launched well before the next negative report comes out. This approach is necessary to support human health and wellbeing with sound nutritional advice.

When a national nutrition communication plan is developed, the following assumptions should be considered:

  • Whatever the proper role of animal products in the diet might be, it must be supported by strong scientific evidence.
  • A strategy for effectively delivering accurate, science-based, nutritional information must be devised. Past case-controlled experimental research has not provided all the answers, but the role of protein, certain fats, and essential nutrients from animals has been well-established in the scientific literature. We must also consider biochemically, physiologically, and nutritionally important nutrients that are abundantly present in animal products (e.g., meat) but completely absent from plants.
  • The plan for delivering accurate information must include distribution to all levels—secondary schools, universities, health professionals, policy makers, general public.
  • The developers of this plan and “deliverers” of this information will most likely not be the producers of the food products. The communication strategy will most likely be developed by a key consortium of universities, associations and key government agencies who are committed to providing this information in an accurate, science-based manner. Delivery of information will likely proceed from this newly organized group.
  • The cost of delivering this information over a significant period of time should be shared by state and federal agencies and the producers of food (animal, etc.).
  • Perhaps it’s time for the National Academy of Science to take an in-depth look at the role of animal products in the diet?

The animal and meat industry should take a hard look at how they are delivering information to their consumers regarding the nutritive value of their products. The current “defensive” plan is not working.  The time for “offense” is now!

Cross is a professor of meat science and former head of the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University.

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