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A Public Relations crisis threatens meat industry



The truth comes out in the end, as Elvis Presley so astutely observed: “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” Particularly with advancing technology – now phones, cameras and visual media devices are more accessible and less conspicuous – organisations that have something to hide would do well to remember Presley’s wise words, or risk inviting a crisis to their door.

Just nine months ago, many Australians watched as an explosive Four Corners episode (www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20110530/cattle/) revealing images of cattle in Indonesia being slaughtered in untenable conditions. The footage exposed how animals were tortured and endured prolonged death as they moved along the abattoirs’ production line. This footage was filmed overseas, and perhaps we felt with some assurance that this wouldn’t happen here in Australia.

But now it has happened in Australia. On Thursday last week ABC’s Lateline screened distressing footage (www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3427271.htm) of inhumane cruelty inflicted on various animals at a West Sydney abattoir. The product was meat, the kind usually destined for our dinner plate or BBQ.

Could this be an aberration, a one-off? Unfortunately it seems not. Just one week earlier police, RSPCA, and other authorities searched a property in Victoria after allegations that stray dogs, goats and other animals were being slaughtered at the site and illegally sold. Read more: Police raid finds dogs, goats ‘for human consumption.

So what does this mean for a thriving Australian meat industry? How can the meat industry respond to an impending crisis like this?

Working with authorities and developing a robust crisis communications plan will be paramount. It’s clear that checks and balances are not in place to mitigate the appalling practices that have been exposed.

As a public relations crisis looms it would be timely for the meat industry to review their vision, mission, values and ethics as part of their overall strategic platform. This framework acts as the cornerstone of an organisation enabling it to move forward inline with regulatory and consumer expectations. With a well prepared strategic plan, the meat industry can win back the confidence of their stakeholders.

The consumer’s position as a stakeholder is influential in this environment. Insisting on proof of both quality and standards of our meat will likely become mandatory in the future and the meat industry will benefit by adopting a progressive attitude towards change.

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