Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beef industry sounds a little worried. WTF?

And this from the Beef Industry's Media Analysis

Key findings

Several beef recalls due to possible E. coli contamination drew widespread media attention this period. The majority of this coverage was on the 21.7 million pound recall of ground beef from Topps Meat of Elizabeth, N.J., and focused on government inspection practices.

Foreign trade was a prominent topic, including coverage of trade talks with South Korea and new restrictions on beef imports to Japan. Coverage of the South Korean negotiations often focused on that country’s continuing refusal to fully open its market to U.S. beef.

An art teacher in suburban Chicago was accused of inappropriately using his position to attempt to indoctrinate his students with his views about animal cruelty and veganism. Although reports highlighted his beliefs, his extreme stance worked to turn public opinion against him.

The release of the WCRF report at the end of October received attention in numerous media outlets. Although coverage primarily focused on the impact of weight on the risk of developing certain types of cancers, high consumption of red meat was also highlighted. Processed meats were characterized as “even more dangerous” than red meat.


Volume: 220 articles, 20 percent of total
Favorability: 54 rating, or neutral
Leading sub-issue: Nutritional vegetarianism –
61 articles
Leading media: Chicago Tribune – 16 articles

Nutritional vegetarianism emerged as the leading sub-issue within nutrition/health reporting this period with coverage often consisting of vegetarian recipes appearing in the media. Vegan recipes accounted for several of these recipes, while many others consisted of meat-replacement meals, such as grilled Portobello mushroom as a steak stand-in and a vegetarian meatloaf. Nutritional vegetarianism coverage also stemmed from attention to art teacher Dave Warwak espousing his views on veganism to students at Fox River Grove Middle School in Illinois. In a Chicago Tribune report about the dispute between the school and the teacher on the appropriateness of his conduct, Warwak argued, “It’s about health. It’s about living longer” (Sept. 7). In another Tribune report, the teacher said, “I can’t really see working there as long as those milk posters are up and they keep feeding poison to the kids” (Sept. 11). While news reports on the conflict in a nutritional context were generally negative as vegan/vegetarian activist comments were included more often, the Chicago Tribune issued favorable editorials Sept. 12 and 14 that were critical of Warwak and his attempts to indoctrinate the students.

Beef recipes containing nutritional information was the second most prominent sub-issue in nutrition/health reporting in September/October. These recipes appeared in 27 percent of nutrition and health coverage, with volume remaining relatively steady from the previous two-month period. Steak offerings were most common among beef recipes containing nutritional information – flank steak and edamme with wasabi dressing, grilled steak with herb sauce, gourmet grilled steak with berry/red wine glaze and pan-fried flank steak with onion and mojo sauce. Corresponding to the cooler fall weather, beef stew and chili recipes also were popular in the media.

Beef and kids and nutrition (15 reports, 58 rating) experienced extensive growth in media coverage this period, increasing from a single neutral story in July and August. This volume increase was fueled primarily by moderately favorable media reports on a study on childhood obesity and iron deficiency. Several major newspapers across the nation published articles about the study’s results in the first week of September. These articles noted that in order to fight obesity in children, parents should feed their toddlers foods high in iron, such as beef, instead of giving them excessive amounts of milk and juice. Coverage often highlighted that iron deficiency can also cause mental and behavioral delays, noting that the study underscores the importance of healthy eating habits in children ages 1 to 3. Additional attention on beef and kids and nutrition consisted of a few reports on altering school lunch programs around the country. The nature of this discussion was conflicted, with reports suggesting that hamburgers can be part of a healthy, balanced diet and others, mostly letters-to-the-editor, criticizing USDA and Congress for purchasing “high-fat, cholesterol-laden chicken nuggets and burgers” as part of the National School Lunch program (New York Times, Sept. 11).

Animal Rights

Volume: 73 reports, 7 percent of total
Favorability: 50 rating, or neutral
Leading sub-issue: Ethical vegetarianism – 33 reports
Leading media: Chicago Tribune – 12 reports

Ethical vegetarianism maintained its position as the leading sub-issue for the September/October period, appearing in 45 percent of animal rights coverage. The sub-issue retained its prominence due to a dispute in early September between a vegan teacher and the administration and parents of students at Fox River Grove Middle School in Illinois. Art teacher Dave Warwak was accused of inappropriately using his position to promulgate his views on animal cruelty and veganism. Though coverage included a number of nutritional and ethical arguments for vegetarianism through Warwak’s supporters, reaction to the teacher in the media was negative, with a Chicago Tribune editorial calling his campaign “officially over the top” (Sept. 12).

Coverage about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) increased again slightly in volume this period, in part due to mentions in the Warwak coverage. Coverage was mostly neutral, promoting vegetarianism without specifically mentioning the meat industry. In September, actress and vegetarian Alicia Silverstone also generated PETA-related attention by appearing naked in a promotional ad for the group’s “goveg.com” campaign that was to air in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Later reports noted that the ad was not aired in the Houston market due to Comcast cable system’s no nudity policy for advertisers. Similarly, the Detroit Free Press ran an interview with a PETA activist who protested nude to draw attention to the cause of animal cruelty (Oct. 4).


Vegetarianism-related reports almost doubled this period from 46 articles in July/August. Favorability remained unchanged at a slightly unfavorable 43.

Nearly one-third of the reports relating to ethical vegetarianism concerned the dispute between Fox River Grove Middle School and a vegan art teacher Dave Warwak, primarily reported in the Chicago Tribune. Initially, articles focused on the details of the dispute, but as the conflict developed, arguments for vegetarianism were featured more prominently. Comments by Warwak and his supporters were frequently cited in the media. For example, Nathan Runkle, executive director of the activist group Mercy for Animals commented, “It’s appropriate for students to learn about the horrendous cruelty that animals endure on factory farms, and about the benefits of a healthy diet” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 7). However, public opinion was less favorable towards Warwak and his arguments. Editorials and letters-to-the-editor accused Warwak of overreaching and abusing his position as a teacher to promote his beliefs. One such contributor wrote, “There is nothing appropriate about sharing one’s personal views in front of an audience that is there for a wholly different reason, can’t easily get up and leave, or both. The situation is even more egregious when the espouser is in a position of authority, like a teacher” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 14).

Although nutritional vegetarianism appeared in twice as many reports as ethical vegetarianism, the two sub-issues often appeared alongside each other, such as in coverage of the Warwak dispute and in an interview with musician Chrissie Hynde, who said, “Our digestive systems aren’t [made to eat meat]. Our jaws swing from left to right like herbivores. Go to a slaughterhouse. I don’t have to go, because I have an imagination. I can imagine what an animal goes through” (Miami Herald, Sept. 2). The media attention paid to potential E. coli-tainted beef also led to discussion of nutritional vegetarianism. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran an opinion piece by Susan Levin of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine who argued that meatless diets not only reduce the risk of contracting E. coli but also obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Levin wrote, “Why take risks associated with meat when a vegetarian diet can help eliminate the risk of foodborne illness, improve overall health and prevent disease?” (Oct. 5). Vegetarian recipes again represented a large percentage of nutritional vegetarianism-related coverage, with dishes often touted as meat replacements.


The Topps meat E. coli-related recall significantly affected beef industry reporting this period. Extensive coverage of the recall drove down the favorability of beef safety, economics and beef marketing coverage. While negative attention was given to the beef industry, the bulk of criticism was directed toward USDA and the reported delay in issuing the recall.

Multiple beef recalls during the period brought renewed attention to the issue of food safety in the United States. Numerous comments in the media noted that the industry had made great strides in tackling foodborne illness, yet “something happened” this summer. The recalls also brought new demands for reform in the nation’s oversight of food safety, with many critics calling for expanded powers to be given to USDA in ordering recalls.

U.S. beef exports to Asia continued to affect economics reporting this period. Media reports highlighted ongoing negotiations between the United States and South Korea, as well as limitations placed by the latter country on U.S. beef. Helping to mitigate the unfavorable nature of these reports was favorable reporting on initiatives by Nebraska to expand markets for its beef in Asia.

This period, the media continued to report on the relationship between cattle and wildlife populations. Articles on the subject were mixed, however, with some in the media praising efforts to control wolf populations, while others criticized the government and ranchers for efforts to protect livestock.

Art teacher Dave Warwak’s attempts to preach veganism to his students drew strong opinions from critics and supporters alike. While Warwak’s supporters were frequently quoted in news reports espousing vegetarian and vegan viewpoints, opinion pieces and editorials heavily criticized his actions, claiming he had seriously overstepped his bounds.


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