The Australian red meat industry could consider adopting the successful strategies implemented by its counterparts in the United States to combat fear-based attacks from activists.
Australian Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) team member Priscilla Evans toured the US in January for a series of training events and competitions, and took the opportunity to investigate the ways in which the US sector was countering media and social media campaigns vilifying red meat products.
As a result, Ms Evans has now been inspired to start her own not-for-profit company to help improve consumer education through an innovative schools program.
In her post tour report to ICMJ, Ms Evans said attacks on the red meat industry were often fueled by sections of the media industry which profited from bad news and disregarded scientific research that demonstrates the nutritional importance of red meat, the industry's environmental safeguards and its improved animal welfare systems.
"Social media has become an open forum for unsubstantiated opinions to be voiced, and it has become the primary catalyst for spreading misinformation about the red meat industry," Ms Evans said.
"The USA has demonstrated that long-term trust and national interest can be encouraged by displaying total industry transparency and engaging with consumers across all generations."
The ICMJ US tour was conducted to enthuse and educate future industry leaders. It was sponsored by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC), and has been undertaken by more than 130 students over 26 years.
This year's ICMJ US tour spanned four weeks, seven states, two inter-collegiate competitions and more than 50 industry experiences, exposing participants to the broad spectrum of the US red meat supply chain.
Ms Evans said it was important that Australia learnt from the US experience as improving public perceptions of red meat was vital to maintaining product demand and increasing profit.
"A variety of social media-based marketing strategies, based off research, targeted at specific consumer demographics whilst conveying appraisals of meat quality and safety, assist in achieving this in the USA," she said.
Ms Evans said these strategies were aligned to a range of consumer profiles, but noted that in the long- term it would be necessary to support these with school-based education programs like the famous 4H schools competitions in the US.
Ms Evans, a graduate of Sydney University, is now delivering her not-for-profit AgXperience education program in Australia, and hopes to expand it to the US to link with and learn from American agencies.
At an industry level MLA last week launched three video-based initiatives to engage school students and their teachers, in order to overcome data showing only one in five meat eaters have a good understanding of Australian red meat production.
"The ICMJ program is a fantastic learning experience, which is currently only available to a small dedicated group of our society. Imagine the generation of agricultural enthusiasts we could recruit if programs like these were available to high-school students everywhere," Ms Evans said.