The meat industry and Eric Schlosser get bloody

July 3, 2006

For those interested in reputation wars and the new battlefronts of such wars, looking at the war between Eric Schlosser and the meat industry is very interesting and instructive. Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation, a very popular and highly critical book about how we produce and sell food and how we consume it. Now he is the co-author of a children’s book called Chew On This, published by Houghton Mifflin.

Now I have not read either Schlosser book so I won’t comment on whether he is right or wrong, factual or not. But it is clear that the 18 associations representing most in the meat and restaurant industries don’t think too much of what he has to say. They are obviously concerned about his impact on children which seems to have prompted much of their counter-propaganda efforts. They have launched www.bestfoodnation.com as a coordinated means of dealing with the “misinformation” they believe is being promoted.

I read the site and like the straightahead approach to what the critics say. I think they could have done a much better job in many of their answers and they lose some credibility by not expressing some recognition of validity for some criticism. It looks like they think everybody in the industry has only done perfectly right in all circumstances.

But what I find particularly interesting is Houghton Mifflin’s response to this “public relations attack.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The company through its VP says that the industry (or rather its PR advisers) are launching personal attacks against the message and the messenger. But I didn’t see any of that, except in the publisher’s broadside. They do exactly what they accuse the industry of doing. It is a diatribe of name calling, guilt by association and politicizing that does nothing helpful in a very important debate.

What I find especially curious and interesting is their interest in politicizing this. Clearly the publisher wants to make this a red vs. blue issue. Why does everything need to be politicized, partisanized and polarized?

My advice:

To the meat industry–you are showing you are out of touch with the changing values of consumers here. Show that you recognize that not all that has been done in the name of making a safe, affordable food supply has always been right or doesn’t need re-evaluating. Don’t just defend. Give some credence to your critics–it is through them that the industry can improve.

To the defenders of Schlosser– don’t be so ridiculously defensive. Your hero is apparently making strong accusations and goring a few sacred cows. Don’t be so surprised and stunned that someone would want to defend themselves. Stick to the issues about the important topic at hand. Do as you say your opponents should do, and don’t do what you seem to be falsely accusing your opponents of doing. And stop politicizing, for goodness sake. Don’t you think Republicans read books too?

A sidenote–Wikipedia continues to damage its credibility by overt bias as well. They join in the Houghton Mifflin pity-party by complaining about the public relations “attack” contained in bestfoodnation. Sorry guys. Didn’t know it was against the new rules of the blog world to attempt to defend yourself and try to set the record straight. Apparently it is.

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