The associations involved, which represent sectors ranging from animal health to feed, to breeding and animal farming and farmers, aim to inform the public about the societal value of livestock production and its contribution to global challenges, offering an alternative narrative to current debates.
Their campaign, #MeattheFacts, kick-started last month, and will run until December 2019. It is about tackling misperceptions, said Anton van den Brink, communications lead and policy advisor at EU feed manufacturers' trade group, FEFAC.
The first step was to get likeminded MEPs on board, in the hope that they can disseminate factual data on both the impact and the contribution of the European livestock sector.
Two newly appointed MEPs, also livestock farmers, Alexander Bernhuber (EPP, AT) and Jérémy Decerle (Renew Europe, FR) are leading the debate in the European Parliament.
“The debate about societal change takes place in the EU Parliament, so MEPs are our principal audience, though, of course, some will be harder to convince than others,” van den Brink told us.
Farmers, as well as all the professionals of the sector, are facing a growing amount of misinformation without always having the possibility and/or the capacity to reply, said the multi-stakeholder group, called European Livestock Voice. The campaigners, thus, set about developing their own information hub, an online portal reviewing the accuracy of the most frequently made statements about livestock production, consumption and its benefits.
They have also been using advertising billboards in metro stations in Brussels to counter what they say is a narrative circulated by NGOs and environmentalists on animal farming, painting a negative picture of the sector in Europe and beyond.
“These debates have become dominated by interest groups who only want to spread myths and radical views about livestock farming. Ever increasing on social media and in the press, these myths and opinions end up portraying a picture that is in stark contrast with the reality experienced and lived every day by thousands of European farmers and professionals working with them on the ground. These debates have strong impacts on the views of European consumers on the role of animal products in their choice of lifestyle and they push the livestock sector into an extremely defensive corner of the society,” they said.
The disconnect between the city dwellers and the farming community is how a lot of these myths take hold, argues van den Brink. The perpetuation of those radical views of farming negatively affects EU farmers, making it more difficult for them to work to ensure their economic viability, and their capacity to adapt to societal and environmental demands, he added.
Moreover, the campaigners, he said, are frustrated at how some media outlets are reporting the findings of publications addressing climate change such as the report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which proposes that society revisit agricultural practices, and find more sustainable ways to grow food, on a global basis.
“Some of the media zoned in on one detail only, blaming meat, and reporting that consumers need to switch to vegetarian or vegan diets to save the planet,” said van den Brink.
Reaction to campaign
Jean-Baptiste Boucher, spokesperson for EU farming lobby, Copa-Cogeca, another member association of European Livestock Voice said, right now, it is difficult to measure the full impact of the campaign. “We only launched it three weeks ago. But there are indications it is going well.”
Indeed, there has been recent coverage of the campaign by the Guardian newspaper in the UK.
“What has got the most reaction so far were the billboards in the metro in Brussels. With this campaign, we are going beyond our natural audience, we are going outside the traditional borders of our communication. So, along with the metro promotions, we also have a video on YouTube trying to get engagement going.
“Many other actions are planned for the coming weeks. Every week, we will release an op-ed from an academic, a scientist, a philosopher or a sociologist to comment on one specific element. For instance, two weeks ago, there was an academic publication released showing weak evidence of a link between meat consumption and cancer and we asked an academic to comment on that debate.”
Boucher is encouraging members of the animal feed, farming and meat production sector to get actively involved in the campaign:
“We invite them to engage, to use #MeattheFacts on social media if they see or read something that they determine to be unbalanced, or, on the contrary, that is positive, so we can get the hashtag established and increase the visibility of our campaign.”
The visuals for #MeattheFacts arrived in Postcard format! Have a nice weekend and don't forget the importance of livestock in all that surrounds you, not just what you eat or dress! #EuropeanLivestockVoicepic.twitter.com/qXFy0c5uyz— Paula de Vera CC (@PauladeVeraCC1) 11 October 2019