Cargill shares experiences of being featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show
February 2011 was an interesting time for Cargill, Inc. The company was invited to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where the crew wanted a tour of a Colorado feedlot and packing plant. While most would be nervous about appearing on this show, based on Oprah’s sensational reporting and high-drama segments, Cargill took on the project and shared the lessons learned at the American Meat Institute (AMI) Foundation Animal Care and Handling Conference in Kansas City, MO on Oct. 19, 2011.
Mike Martin, director of media relations for Cargill, Inc., presented his talk, “Transparency and the Media,” and offered his thoughts on the results of the segment, which also featured a vegan challenge for Oprah staffers.
“The best defense is a good offense. Having the opportunity to share Cargill’s focus on food safety on The Oprah (Winfrey) Show was great because it gave us the chance to balance the statements made by vegan activist Kathy Freston and foodie Michael Pollan, who has been incredibly critical of the beef industry in the past,” Martin said. “We focused on messages of transparency, food safety and animal care, as we toured the plant and feedlot with reporter Lisa Ling.”
After her tour, Ling said she still eats meat but has a new appreciation for where it comes from. Cargill’s Nicole Johnson-Hoffman conducted the tour and had positive sound bytes on the show. “I would not ridicule people who believe that you shouldn’t eat animals, but I would say that we are committed to doing it right. And I believe that when animals are handled with dignity and harvested carefully, that’s the natural order of things. Whether you eat meat or not, I think we’re all on the same path trying to figure out the right way to get to good health for our families and environmental sustainability and humane treatment. We’ll find a better result together, even if we have perhaps different perspectives or different beliefs,” Johnson-Hoffman summarized after her experience.
In all, 7.3 million U.S. households watched the first airing of the show, which received thousands of online comments debating vegan diets and congratulating the beef industry on a job well done.
“We deprived our critics of 10 minutes of the show’s content; that’s 25 percent of the total non-commercial airtime,” Martin said. “Of the many e-mails we received after the show, the overwhelming majority can only be described as glowing. To paraphrase Temple Grandin, ‘somebody opened up the door, and we walked through it.’ While Pollan tried to bait Johnson-Hoffman during the interview, she stayed on track with positive messages about our industry.”
According to the USDA, Americans eat nearly 10 billion animals a year, including 33 million cows. If you make the choice to eat meat, Pollan told the audience you should know how it’s produced.
“Seventy-five percent of our healthcare spending is on chronic diseases linked to diet. That’s really bankrupting us, and that has to do with the way we’re eating,” Pollan said during the show. “To say that you shouldn’t eat meat is a moral challenge, it’s an ethical challenge and it’s a challenge to your tradition. There are great farmers in this country who are doing really good work, and they need to be supported. We need to reform the meat system – not eliminate it.”
Pollan tried to accuse the beef industry of producing “slimy meat” and that agriculture was the “most dangerous job in the world.” His jibes at the beef industry were cut out of the segment as Johnson-Hoffman stuck to the basics of the industry’s commitment to respectfully harvest animals to enrich human lives with safe, wholesome beef.
“We prepared Johnson-Hoffman with talking points before the show aired,” Martin explained. “We could have said no to doing this show, but it gave us the opportunity to share our story, and I think it turned out well for the beef industry.”
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