Defending U.S. Egg Producers from Attacks by Animal Activists
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Defending U.S. Egg Producers from Attacks by Animal Activists

U. S. egg producers came under attack this year from animal activists trying to eliminate cages and other modern production practices. The United Egg Producers, a trade association, hired GolinHarris to help defend its members and industry.

Paul Holmes

U. S. egg producers came under attack this year from animal activists trying to eliminate cages and other modern production practices. The United Egg Producers, a trade association, hired GolinHarris to help defend its members and industry. Using research and strategic communication methods, GolinHarris helped ward off the attacks and develop strong support for the egg industry¡¯s self-regulatory animal welfare program.

Animal activist groups have been gaining media attention and political muscle through highly visible attacks on the food and agriculture industry the past few years. In Europe, these emotional appeals have led to the imposition f new and costly legislative and regulatory burdens on farmers. In Germany, the Netherlands and Austria new onerous animal welfare laws supported by animal activists were imposed on egg farmers.

The United Egg Producers, a trade association of U.S. egg farmers, knew that if similar restrictions were imposed in the United States, which is the most efficient and proficient supplier of eggs to the world, it would have a devastating impact on their members and also would double or triple the cost of eggs for grocery retailers, food manufacturers, restaurants and consumers.

The United Egg Producers decided that they needed to be proactive and develop science¡ªbased animal care guidelines for the modern production of egg farmers could adopt voluntarily through an industry self-regulation program. This became known as the Animal Care Certified program.

GolinHarris commissioned a research survey to determine American consumers¡¯ attitudes towards animal welfare issues, egg purchasing patterns and related matters. While much of that research is proprietary, some of the key findings that were used to help shape this program were: American consumers place a high degree of importance (50 percent) on animal welfare issues; but American consumers have a low threshold of knowledge (51 percent) about animal welfare issues; while animal care issues are relevant to American consumers, they are a relatively low priority in their grocery purchasing decisions; 54 percent of American consumers are willing to pay slightly more (10 percent) for grocery products that provide a higher level of animal care; 66 percent of consumers are satisfied with industry self-regulation, rather than government intervention.

The objectives were to: generate support from all U.S. egg producers to voluntarily participate in this industry self-regulatory program; generate financial support from all U. S. egg producers to continually fund a nationwide customer and consumer education campaign about the program; generate customer (grocery retailers, food manufacturers, restaurants) and consumer awareness and support for the program; avert the implementation of unscientific, emotion-based regulations by local, state, or federal governments or other third parties

The following strategies were devised to meet the client¡¯s issues management needs: develop and implement a set of animal care guidelines for egg producers that would credibly address the issues and agendas being promulgated by animal activists; develop and implement a nationwide and customer and consumer education campaign about the program and its benefits

The target audiences were: the U.S. egg producers; the U.S. egg producer customers (grocery retailers, restaurant chains, food manufacturers); the food opinion leaders (food editors and writers); consumers.

The United Egg Producers decided to convene an independent group of animal welfare experts to develop a body of knowledge for the establishment of guidelines for the proper care of egg-laying hens. The United Egg Producers would ask credible third-party organization for annual inspections/evaluations of farmers participating in the program to ensure compliance. A ¡°certification seal,¡± which could easily identify eggs that were produced under the animal care guidelines, would be developed and consumer tested. Customer and consumer education materials about the program would be developed and distributed nationwide.

Tactics included:
¡Æ Press kit and news releases
¡Æ Direct mailing to retailers/foodservice/food manufacturers; creation of brochures and exhibit at largest food industry trade show
¡Æ Consumer brochure
¡Æ Creation of a website
¡Æ Video new release for farm animals week
¡Æ Desk-side visits with food editors
¡Æ On-going media monitoring, media training and media relations
¡Æ Trade advertising (5 percent of total budget)
¡Æ Creation of b-roll to combat outdated, inaccurate video from activists

The program was executed essentially as planned. However, animal activists groups that wanted even stricter guidelines than proposed by the industry raised objections to the program. That group filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food & Drug Administration, the Federal Trade commission, the New York State Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. All of those petitions were denied except the BBB and the FTC. After meetings with the BBB and the FTC , the United Egg Producers made changes to the program to try to resolve the areas of concern (adapting the logo to include the website address and other materials).

The results were: 85 percent of U.S. egg producers have adopted the Animal Care Certified guidelines; 100 percent of the participating Animal Care Certified egg producers supported the nationwide PR program financially and recommitted to the same level of funding for another year; the Animal Care Certified program has received the endorsement of the Food Marketing Institute and the National Council of Chain Restaurants, as well as support from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food & Drug Administration, many U.S. congressmen and food and agriculture groups; the consumer education campaign generated 80 million impressions in its first year through newspaper, television, trade magazines and direct marketing activities. The website received 500,000 hits in its first year.

Unlike Europe, no new egg production regulations have been proposed in the United States; The International Egg Commission has now adopted the guidelines.

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