By: Eric Mittenthal
As a PR professional, I live in a world of constant battle against misinformation. This is especially true within the meat industry. Is lean finely textured beef (LFTB) really a just a cheap filler? Do meat producers really use so called “meat glue” to bind together random cuts of meat and try to pass them off as a filet mignon? There are examples of questions like this almost daily, and while the answers to them are often straightforward to us at AMI, the reasons why misinformation persists are always hard to understand. A fascinating new study sheds some light on misinformation and its correction, and it contains valuable lessons for anyone involved in communicating to combat misinformation.
The study takes a deep dive into how misinformation is created and disseminated, how it often sticks in people’s minds and offers recommendations for debunking misinformation. One of the many examples it cites is the controversy around vaccines and autism. Despite the fact that the original studies suggesting a link between vaccines and autism have been retracted and unsubstantiated, there are still many people out there, including health professionals, who believe there is a connection between vaccines and autism. So why does misinformation stick, even when there is significant evidence to disprove it? Some reasons include:
- People tend to believe things that are consistent with other things they believe to be true
- Repetition creates a perceived social consensus
- Single retractions don’t elicit changes
In the meat industry we’ve seen several examples of misinformation persist despite significant evidence to the contrary such as:
- The aforementioned LFTB issue. This is a great example of repeated misinformation taking hold. Bombarded with messages about “pink slime” and an incorrect photo of the product, the notion that it is different than other ground beef took hold and remains today.
- Nitrate/Nitrite and cancer. Despite the fact that the most significant source of nitrite in our diet is vegetables, there is a common perception that processed meat is the most common contributor and that this causes numerous negative health effects. Even a multi-year National Toxicology Program study that involved feeding rodents nitrate and nitrite in drinking water and concluded that nitrite was not a carcinogen seems insufficient to persuade some people of its safety.
- Oversight at meat plants. There are many people who believe that meat plants are not regularly inspected. They hold this belief despite the fact that few industries in America are regulated and inspected as comprehensively as meat and poultry plants and U.S. meat packing plants where livestock are handled and processed are inspected continuously.
There are numerous other myths that persevere about the meat industry. We created the Meat Mythcrusher video series and brochures to help combat misinformation, and have found it to be one way that helps. The authors of the study put together a handy chart that we’ve included below with tips for overcoming different causes of misinformation. It is something we will utilize in our communications and hope others in the industry do as well.
How are you combating misinformation?