Consumers' beef safety concerns remain
NCBA spokesman says producers 'need to get a good, positive message' out
By TIM HEARDEN
The threat of illlness from bacteria remains a top concern for consumers when it comes to food safety, according to a new study.
Pesticides, mad cow disease and the use of chemical additives in beef products were also key concerns, according to research on consumer perceptions of beef safety commissioned by the Beef Checkoff.
Overall concerns about beef safety have remained stable over the past 10 years, except that concerns over bovine spongiform encephalopathy have diminished somewhat, the study found.
Lingering worries about bacteria point out the industry's need to educate the public on how to safely prepare steaks and ground beef, said Melissa Slagle, the Cattlemen's Beef Board's trade media manager.
"I think what comes out of this study is reinforcing to consumers that they play a role in beef safety as well," Slagle said.
The research was compiled by Rick McCarty, vice president of issue analysis for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, who looked at data from various phone and online surveys to identify trends.
About 95 percent of Americans eat beef, and confidence in the safety of steaks and roasts has remain high while trust of ground beef has trended upward, McCarty's study found.
McCarty noted a recent Kansas State University study that found media coverage of animal welfare issues in the past 10 years has affected consumer demand for meat.
Moreover, he found media coverage of safety issues such as images of cattle being mishandled at the Hallmark/Westland packing plant in California in 2008 does affect consumer perceptions of beef.
However, the concerns do not last, nor does there appear to be a "ratcheting up" phenomenon where concern levels go back down but not as low as before, McCarty's study found.
"The thing that stood out to me is we do need to understand that we need to get a good, positive message about all the good things the industry is doing to make beef safe," McCarty said in an interview.
Relatively few consumers know the proper temperature to safely cook ground beef, the study found. To that end, the Beef Checkoff has sponsored education efforts such as Safe and Savory at 160 and consumer-oriented websites, Slagle said.
"Our 'Beef: It's What's for Dinner' website and Facebook page and Twitter have really exploded recently," Slagle said. "Consumers who are looking for beef recipes are staying on the site to look for other information."
Consumer Perceptions of Beef Safety: http://www.beefboard.org/news/101022ChangingConsumerSafetyPressRelease.asp
Beef. It's What's for Dinner: http://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/
Explore Beef: http://www.explorebeef.org/