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Big Food Is Worried About Millennials Avoiding Animal Products

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Big Food Is Worried About Millennials Avoiding Animal Products
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By Nathan Runkle

Hundreds of leaders from fast-food chains, marketing agencies and poultry production companies recently gathered in North Carolina for the 2017 Chicken Marketing Summit to play golf and figure out how to make you eat more animals.

One session focused on marketing chicken to millennials. Richard Kottmeyer, a senior managing partner at Fork to Farm Advisory Services, explained to the crowd that millennials are "lost" and need to be "inspired and coached." His reasoning? Because there are now "58 ways to gender identify on Facebook." Also, because most millennial women take nude selfies, the chicken industry needs to be just as "naked" and transparent.


What?

These are some of the key takeaways outlined in an article on WATT AgNet, a leading animal agriculture website, which provides insight into the mentality of some of the people who raise and sell America's most abused and consumed land animal.

"Millennial consumers are self-experts making it difficult for producers to teach them fact-based information," the article begins. "Common sense has to replace [the] complexity of data and science."

Compared to their parents, millennials are more likely to believe in evolution and accept that climate change is occurring. Indeed, millennials seek out facts and science to better understand our complex world, but the poultry industry doesn't have any "fact-based information" to defend its cruel, unsanitary practices.

Here are the facts millennials are learning about chicken production through news reports and undercover investigations: The vast majority of chickens raised for meat have been bred to grow so large so quickly that many collapse under their own unnatural weight. Because factory farmers want to keep their net profits similarly hefty, they wait months—some more than a year—to change the chickens' litter. And since chickens live only six to seven weeks before they're slaughtered, they often live in the waste of several flocks that came before them. The waste can cause ammonia burns, and poor air quality can cause respiratory diseases and even eye lesions.

These conditions are so abysmal that according to one conservative estimate more than 139 million chickens don't even make it to the slaughterhouse each year because they literally suffer to death. That's more chickens than the entire human populations of California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania combined.

Chickens who do make it to slaughter are shackled upside down by their feet and shocked in an electrified water tank. Then their throats are slit, often while the birds are still fully conscious.

Such conditions and practices have driven away many millennial consumers, 12 percent of whom now identify as "faithful vegetarians." There's a reason some call them "generation nice." And thankfully, it's easier now than ever to eat more plant-based foods.

Since the poultry industry can't defend its practices, it instead condescends and insults its greatest skeptics: the millennials who take the time to research where their food comes from.

At the conference, Kottmeyer used Facebook's 58 options for gender identification as supposed evidence that millennials struggle with identity. He explained, "What this means is the millennial generation is trying to find themselves. If an individual feels lost, they don't know what to believe other than to follow the trend. Poultry and other meat producers must create that trend."

If anyone's lost, it's the poultry marketers who believe they can woo consumers by talking down to them and creating "trends" (what kind of trends, exactly, is unclear). Perhaps even worse than this condescension is the industry's lack of transparency, which only serves to stir doubt and erode consumer trust.

So far, the poultry industry's version of transparency is creating videos of white-gloved tours of chicken houses. But no amount of PR spin can conceal what whistleblowers expose when poultry farmers think the cameras are off. A quick YouTube search of "chicken cruelty" returns 123,000 results, including an undercover investigation into a North Carolina factory farm in which a worker was stomping birds to death. Another investigation in North Carolina uncovered workers slaughtering sick and injured chickens.

The response to such damning findings? Make it illegal to photograph or videotape abuse. Since 2011, more than 30 state legislatures have introduced "ag-gag" bills to criminalize documenting and sometimes even distributing factory farm and slaughterhouse footage. Few state legislatures have been brazen enough to pass an ag-gag bill into law, but North Carolina is one of them.

It's clear the industry knows it has a transparency problem, since it uses millennials' alleged openness as evidence that it should be open, too: "Nine out of 10 millennial women have taken and distributed nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves ... Is your brand as naked and vulnerable as what the statistic says the consumer is?" Kottmeyer told his audience, "If your brand isn't naked, it isn't going to last very long."

Hopefully, that's an omen.

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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