Red meat industry must choose its battles

I read with interest the editor's comment in the last edition of Meat Trades Journal ("Let's tackle the negative meat messages head-on" MTJ June 11, 2010) which echoed the theme of an article in the previous edition ("Time for rebuttal" MTJ May 28, 2010).

Both of these pieces talk about the need for the red meat industry to be pro-active when challenged over industry issues as diverse as climate change, cancer, nutrition and consumer trends.

This is a stance we agree with and in an ideal world is exactly what would happen. However, the practicalities of this without an unlimited budget make it impossible to do comprehensively. We must choose our battles, identify areas of research that will most benefit the industry and allocate resources accordingly.

This means that giving comment on a particular published study is often the most effective way of fighting the corner for beef and sheep producers. It is an irony that your rebuttal article criticises this approach but journalists continue to call us seeking comment!

Eblex is in the front line of defence for the beef and lamb industry and uses its limited levy income in a cost effective way. This means we can be proactive on some issues, but more often offer comment when requested, correct inaccuracies in reported stories, and ensure industry is fully briefed on current issues.

We have an ongoing programme of engagement with organisations whose scope might leave them with particular views on the red meat industry. We work hard behind the scenes to meet with them and keep open a constructive dialogue, highlighting industry concerns and relevant research and activity as necessary. Unfortunately there are some, particular single issue bodies, who prefer not to engage with the industry.

In some areas, like climate change, we are able to be more pro-active. A year's specific research went into producing Change in the Air, the first part of the beef and sheep meat roadmap. This pulled together many different strands in a comprehensive document that the industry now relies on as a tool for demonstrating what we are doing to reduce emissions. Phase two is due out later this year with no less work or investment.

This is one example of more high profile activity putting us on the front foot.

Rather than sitting back and waiting for issues to come to us, we will continue to invest in research while doing our best to field enquiries from journalists and defend the industry from attack.