The swine flu cannot be avoided. Whether you’re watching the evening news, following The New York Times’ tweets, or delaying your trip to Mexico, the swine flu has inadvertently become part of your life.
With national crises come many misconceptions– some of which can hurt an entire public or industry. Without warning, the pork industry has taken a big hit from the misconception that pork products carry the swine flu. According to a New York Times article by Andrew Martin, the use of the word “swine” has produced global hesitation over eating pork. Martin says that several nations closed their borders to the importation of pork, which has caused extreme frustration within the pork industry. Not only have pork product sales declined, but the industry has also been unexpectedly hit with a bad reputation.
So, how does the pork industry take back its name?
First, the major organizations within the pork industry need to stake their claim in the media. Using credible medical sources, the industry needs to make it clear that pork products do not carry the swine flu, and furthermore, that they are safe to eat. This has been done, but not on every medium. The pork industry has not tapped into social media as much as it could. The industry needs to provide its PR staff with two or three key messages that should be repeated and tweeted wherever possible.
Second, the pork industry needs to communicate and emphasize the effectiveness of its disease monitoring programs. According to a blog post on food safety, in order to comfort its customers, Tyson Foods simply released a statement saying, “Our pork products are safe.” This is not enough to relieve the American public, especially in a crisis situation where people are actively attempting to protect themselves from the pandemic. If Tyson Foods released concrete evidence of the monthly testing or capabilities of its disease monitoring technology, it would put much of its public at ease. The organizations that speak up about the reality of the crisis will instill more trust in their customers and the swine-flu panicked public.
Third, focus on the front-line customers: the buyers at the grocery store’s meat counter. According to a Forbes.com article, this is where the “pork-is-safe campaign” begins. If the big supermarket chains don’t reinforce that pork is safe to their customers, the swine flu consumer perception will not change. The pork industry needs to be hitting every side of pork distribution (e.g. butchers, supermarkets, restaurant chains).
This may be a crisis, but this crisis is not the first of its kind. In the past few years we’ve dealt with peanut, tomato and beef scares (just to name a few). According to Forbes.com, this is a crisis of perception rather than reality. The pork industry needs to communicate quickly and take action.