It's often referred to as “the cow that stole Christmas.” Frankly, it could easily have been the cow that stole the U.S. beef industry altogether. Oh, and while there’s no denying that this cow did its share of damage, and there were casualties along the way, it didn’t take the industry down. Why not? Well, few would argue with the claim that it’s thanks to your Beef Checkoff Program that the industry averted across-the-board destruction of cattle producers’ livelihoods.
Of course, twas the night before Christmas Eve, nearly eight years ago, when discovery of a single dairy cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Washington state put holiday celebrations for much of agriculture on hold and fixated global attention on the U.S. beef and dairy industries and the issue of beef safety.
Oh sure, most producers knew that BSE was not a human-health issue, but the majority of the population in this country jumped on the immediate bandwagon call of “Danger, Danger!” set off by consumer media who knew nothing of the cattle disease and had quickly assumed it was a threat to everyone who as much as laid their eyes on beef in the supermarket meat case. Add to the mix a rather ecstatic anti-meat faction, part of which took the case as an opportunity to further its cause, and the beef industry had itself a frenzied mess.
In the spirit of the season, though, it was something of a miracle that followed. Immediately, an informational, myth-busting, science-based website lit up to help answer consumers’ – as well as USDA’s and the food industry’s – frenzied questions about whether they should stop eating beef and, literally, if they were going to die from beef they had already eaten. And that website was just one of a slew of resources that your Beef Checkoff Program kicked into action and fed literally around the clock throughout the holiday season and beyond.
That’s because you’ve invested your checkoff dollars in things like what is internally called “issues management,” something of a behind-the-scenes emergency response team to safeguard your industry, to protect your bottom line.
For the most part, issues management represents ‘the best news you’ve never heard’ – putting out misinformation sparks before they become full-fledged conflagrations. So while you don’t read as much front-page news about the daily contact that this crisis-aversion team makes with consumers, researchers, health professionals, food manufacturers and processors, beef importers and exporters, and the anti-beef camp, the beef and dairy industries certainly got a firsthand look at the results on Dec. 23, 2003 and the months that followed.