Inside Big Beef’s Climate Messaging Machine: Confuse, Defend and Downplay

by Joe Fassler. Courtesy of The Guardian.

The US beef industry is creating an army of influencers and citizen activists to help amplify a message that will be key to its future success: that you shouldn’t be too worried about the growing attention around the environmental impacts of its production.

I know about these industry priorities as I am one of more than 21,000 graduates of a free, by-admission-only, online training course created by the US beef industry called the Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program.

The course is the creation of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the beef industry’s main lobby group, and on completing it I can tell you that you don’t actually get a master’s degree, despite its name.

What you get is multiple misleading – but scientific sounding – narratives about beef industry sustainability and repeated appeals for students to engage proactively with consumers online and offline about environmental topics. Via a private Facebook group for graduates, the NCBA also distributes infographics and industry talking points to deploy in online conversations.

My interest in doing the course was to better understand cattle industry messaging at a time when beef’s outsized role in climate crisis is under scrutiny. My experience as an MBA student, in addition to other details I uncovered as I reported this story, led me to conclude that the beef industry is engaged in an all-out public relations war to pre-empt environmental criticisms of its products – and that those PR efforts are increasing.

These new details complement the picture provided by the scientists, food systems researchers, behavioral experts and policy specialists interviewed for this story, who say the industry is working to sow confusion about the impacts of animal agriculture – sapping the will for broader political change.

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