News about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has fallen to the back pages of the country’s newspapers – when it appears at all. Nonetheless, the U.S. cattle industry remains vigilant to the disease, and the potential of publicity that could damage consumer confidence in beef if additional cases of BSE are found. And the Beef Checkoff Program is helping the industry to be prepared should this happen.

For instance, an extensive checkoff-funded toolkit containing a wide range of crisis planning information is being distributed to state beef councils and cattle associations.  It was prepared on behalf of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and state beef councils by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). NCBA serves as one of the Beef Board’s contractors for checkoff-funded programs.

The toolkit includes guidelines for building relationships important to an inclusive crisis preparedness team; checklists and templates for executing an effective state response; information about managing on-site crisis response; instructions for planning and executing media conferences and teleconferences; a step-by-step checklist for assuring that all important steps are implemented the first day of a crisis; and more.

Although it relies significantly on experience from the Dec. 23, 2003, BSE incident in Washington state, the material in the toolkit is applicable to management of any crisis that the beef industry might encounter.

The toolkit is an expansion and extension of checkoff-funded state organization’s guide to developing a communications response plan available prior to the Dec. 23 incident. This response plan was used by the Washington State Beef Commission and others in addressing the challenges faced after the discovery of the BSE-infected cow there.

“This is a dynamic tool that states will find helpful in assuring they are prepared should the worst happen,” according to Bob Rolston, a beef producer from Englewood, Colo., and chairman of the Joint Public Opinion and Issues Management Group. “Maintaining consumer confidence in our product is critical, and along with the safety measures we’ve put in place, good communications plans are an important element in the mix.”

One-on-One Planning Guidance Offered

To help further extend checkoff crisis preparedness efforts, national beef checkoff staff is providing interested state beef councils with “one-on-one” guidance in building crucial relationships and designing effective response plans.

“Every state is different, so their needs and challenges are different,” says Cattlemen’s Beef Board member Dave Bateman, vice chairman of the Joint Information Committee and a beef producer from Oregon, Ill. “By working with these states individually, we’ll be able to assist them in crafting the best possible response plans for their organizations.”  

“Our industry has provided a high quality, safe product for many years, and that fact is being proven by increasing beef demand and strong consumer confidence in beef that has remained constant,” Rolston says. "Still, we’ve captured the lessons learned during our Dec. 23 situation, and are creating valuable tools that can be brought out any time they’re needed.”