Last February, not long after Julie Ann Potts was named CEO of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), Dr. H. Russell Cross emailed her and copied me with a strong suggestion that she begin her time in office by changing paradigms. Worried that attacks by ‘anti-meat’ groups were winning the dietary battle, he asked that she drop the usual defensive approach taken by the industry and NAMI, replacing it with a strong offensive, instead. Potts was just beginning to discover where the reins of the organization were and the industry’s most influential people were lining up at her office door to lobby on lots of subjects. I thought it might take some time for her to start the ball rolling, so I made a note to follow up a year later.
A few days ago, I contacted Cross and asked him to share his thoughts with me. Most importantly, was NAMI leading the charge? For those few who don’t know him and understand the impact his suggestion to Potts should have, he is professor and head of the department of animal science in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Texas A&M University. The founding director of Texas A&M’s Institute of Food Science & Engineering, he served as Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service under Presidents Bush (41) and Clinton. He also pioneered the International HACCP Alliance, serving as its founder and executive director. He’s also a member of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. To be precise, he is an industry heavyweight.
Here is his reply:
It’s Time for the Beef Industry to go on the Offense!
By H. Russell Cross
Department of Animal Science
Texas A&M University
The beef industry provides a very nutritious product that supplies essential nutrients in a daily diet. Unfortunately, the beef industry is losing the “information” war because it continues to be on the defense. It is time for the beef industry, working with universities and various NGO’s to come together to develop and implement an aggressive plan to effectively deliver the message. Time to go on the offense! A well thought out “Plan” will need to be developed. What follows is one approach for developing a plan for going on the offense.
This plan should include the identification of:
- Essential nutrients that are readily provided by animal source foods (meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, & fish) in the human diet are critically important for growth, development and good health. Despite their value in the diet, many health-care professionals, policymakers and consumers, have a negative perception of such foods as part of a “healthy lifestyle.”
- Compare beef vs. cell-based and plant-based products.
- Professionals across a range of disciplines believe that consumer understanding is often driven by marketing rather than science, and the producers of these food products are losing ground each year. Many reasons can contribute to the present situation, in which consumers overlook the value of nutrient-rich foods, but the current plan for delivering science-based nutritional information is not working.
- 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, in addition to plant-based foods, has been well-established in the scientific literature.
- The plan for delivering accurate information must include distribution to all levels (secondary schools, universities, health professionals, policymakers, and the general public).
- The “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 proceed from this newly organized group.
- The cost of delivering this information over a significant period of time could be shared by state and federal agencies and the producers of food (animal, plant, etc.).
Potential Plan Outline:
- In order to better deliver the concept that foods of animal origin, along with other foods, do have a valuable place in the human diet, and stop repeating approaches that do not effectively inform consumers about nutrition.
- An association, company or group of universities could take the lead to form a team to design the framework or model for an “Effective Nutrition Communication Plan.” The goal is to develop and structure a model for a plan to effectively “communicate nutrition and the role of animal products in a healthy diet”!
- A series of steps could be considered
- The development of a small internal task force to:
- Finalize the Goals and Mission of the Nutrition Communication Plan.
- Outline the framework for:
- The multi-institutional team members who will help design the plan with acknowledgement that this is a BIG, LONG-RANGE project. “THE PLAN” will be ambitious and far-reaching. Delivery will be multifaceted and will have to be accomplished in stages, from small too big. Target groups will require age and appropriate demographic approaches.
- The structure for the development of the information that will be delivered at each level.
- The structure for the “delivery” of the science-based information at all levels.
- Potential source of funds to accomplish the mission and goals of the Nutrition Communication Plan over the next five years.
- The development of a small internal task force to:
Final Product: The result of this activity will be a “model nutrition communication plan” that could be used in a regional or statewide test before being expanded to multiple states. This “model plan” could also be used to seek funding for launching the “Nutrition Communication Plan.” As we know, it is a very sophisticated world out there in terms of really changing people’s minds.
In summary, the first step for the beef industry is to agree that this is a very high priority, and the second step is to develop (not implement) the design and framework for the Nutrition Communication Plan. The industry associations cannot do it all, nor can the check-off cover all of the costs. This will be a major effort and will take time and resources to be effective.
The time for action is now!
What he’s done here is just an outline, a map for a more aggressive approach to winning the food battles. He then sat down with three of his distinguished colleagues to ‘put some meat on the bones’ of his outline.
First, Dr. Gary Smith, a world-renowned expert in meat science and food safety, who rejoined the Texas A&M University department of animal science in 2014. In addition, Smith also served as a visiting professor in animal science and advisor to the president at Colorado State University, where he previously served as a university distinguished professor emeritus and occupied the Monfort Endowed Chair in Meat Science from 1990 until his retirement in 2010.
Next in the group was Dr. Stephen Smith, a professor of meat science in the department of animal science and a member of the Intercollegiate Faculty of Food Science and Technology and the Intercollegiate Faculty of Nutrition.
The third member was Dr. Guoyao Wu, a distinguished professor and university faculty fellow. Wu has published 565 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 58 book chapters and two professional books (Principles of Animal Nutrition, and Amino Acids: Biochemistry and Nutrition). With more than 41,500 citations, he is among the Most Cited Authors worldwide.
A paper that should politely be called ‘A Call to Arms’ is coming next.