Speaking out for the beef industry
Over the past couple of years, and certainly over the past few months, there has been an increase in the number of media reports with inaccurate, misleading and, in some cases, untruthful information regarding agriculture and the beef industry. Topics have ranged from greenhouse gas emissions to food safety to human health. These erroneous reports have eroded consumer confidence, weakened demand for beef and even frightened consumers. In some cases, reporters and writers simply have not done their homework. In others, agendas and biases have gotten in the way of accurate reporting and news writing. I have become convinced that our industry needs to be proactive rather than reactive to these types of messages.
Russ Danielson and I had the opportunity to hear Daren Williams speak about the Masters Beef Advocacy (MBA) training program at the annual North Dakota Stockmen’s Convention. The MBA program is an online course consisting of six self-study modules: 1) Modern Beef Production, 2) Animal Care, 3) Beef Safety, 4) Nutrition, 5) Environmental Stewardship, and 6) Beef Checkoff. Each module contains 20 to 30 minutes of narrative, slides, and information to watch on your computer, as well as a homework assignment and short quiz. Part of the mission of the MBA course is to train everyday folks to be spokespeople for our industry by providing factual information on a number of areas about which consumers have questions. Approximately 30 students, faculty (including myself and Russ), and staff at NDSU completed the online course this fall.
Last week, Daren came to Fargo to take our students through a commencement ceremony. Commencement is the correct word to use here since the intent of the course is for graduates to commence or begin their role as spokespersons for the industry following completion of the course.
Part of the commencement ceremony involved a role-playing exercise during which participants split into pairs. One person in each pair played the role of an animal rights activist, a vegetarian, or a person who had cut back on meat consumption for perceived health reasons. The second person played themselves and had the mission of gaining a greater understanding of the underlying reasons for the other person’s decisions by listening and seeking to gather more information, rather than judging or taking them to task for their viewpoint. They were also charged with using what they had learned in the course to refute any misinformation that entered into the discussion. Then the roles were reversed and each person took on the opposite role. This exercise created some awkward moments for the participants. Many commented that it was hard to play the role of someone whose views they did not necessarily agree with or understand.
During the commencement program we also had a chance to go online and view several recent articles at various web sites related to the course content. Participants were asked to draft comments to an online blog about beef production, giving them a chance to put what they had learned in the course into practice.
The MBA course is designed to teach you how to respond to misinformation in the online media, but also equips you with the information needed to discuss topics relevant to consumers and the beef industry in other venues as well – in the grocery store, in church, or wherever you encounter misinformation about beef production.
I found the MBA course very useful and encourage each of you to look into participating in it as well. You can take the online study modules at your own pace. The next couple of months before calving starts would be a great time to get involved with this effort and discover how each of you can assist in the effort to provide consumers with accurate information regarding our industry. A grassroots effort which focuses on reaching consumers and the public and combats misinformation will pay big dividends for our industry going forward.
If you would like to learn more about the online course or to enroll, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope you had a Merry Christmas and a have a great start to 2010.