Beef Issues Quarterly Archive

Issues Media Monitoring and Response Analysis: September 2015 – November 2015

by Season Solorio, Executive Director, Issues & Reputation Management and Amy Poague, Manager, Issues Analytics and Content, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, contractors to the Beef Checkoff


On a daily basis, the Issues and Reputation Management (IRM) team, on behalf of the beef checkoff, carefully surveys the landscape across traditional media, broadcast media and social media to determine which issues warrant a response. Using a variety of tools, including Lexis Nexis for traditional and broadcast media monitoring and NUVI for social media monitoring, the team overlays the data from both applications to create a clear picture of how an issue is playing out in the external environment. 


Each quarter, the team reviews traditional media coverage and a small sampling of social media coverage to determine the level of attention that an issue receives. From September 2015 through November 2015 more than 850 traditional media stories and 1,334,689 social media mentions of the beef industry were analyzed as part of the quarterly monitoring report through Lexis Nexis and NUVI. The 1.3 million social media mentions resulted in more than 1.5 billion social media impressions during the same period. The high volume of traditional and social media coverage is largely due to the report released by the International Agency for the Research on Cancer in late October. Almost every major news network in the U.S. and developed world covered the IARC announcement. Other issues that were widely covered include sustainability and antibiotics due to involvement by groups that disagree with the use of antibiotics in livestock and World Antibiotics Awareness week. This article focuses on the traditional and social media coverage around the IARC announcement.


When monitoring an issue traditional and social media, it is important to be conscious of how the conversation is unfolding, the direction it may be heading and, perhaps most importantly, the amount of people who are reading about the issue and discussing the issue and what they are saying. Careful listening and analysis of both social and traditional media provides the information that the team uses to gain important insight, no matter how big or small of an issue. Careful listening to both mediums – traditional media and social media – provides feedback that helps effectively manage and respond to the issue.

In November 2014, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, an agency of the World Health Organization) announced it would be evaluating the carcinogenicity of red and processed meats. The IARC’s mission is to review pre-existing research on cancer to determine potential causes and to evaluate the carcinogenicity of specific substances. They group each substance into a category according to how “hazardous” they decide the substance may be. 

  • Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 3: Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity in humans
  • Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans

You can read more about the IARC process in this previous article from Beef Issues Quarterly.

On the evening of Thursday, October 22, 2015, the Daily Mail UK previewed findings from IARC’s review of red and processed meat. The headline was attention-grabbing, equating red meat with smoking cigarettes, “Bacon, burgers and sausages are a cancer risk, say world health chiefs: Processed meats added to list of substances most likely to cause disease alongside cigarettes and asbestos.” The story was based on leaked information that the Daily Mail had received prior to IARC releasing the full conclusions the following Monday and suggested that processed meats would be placed in highest hazard category (Group 1, carcinogenic to humans) and red meat would be placed in the second highest category (Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans). The Daily Mail also carried a follow-up story of an interview with a colorectal surgeon who argued that consumers are more likely to get cancer from chocolate, than red meat.

Utilizing our traditional and social media monitoring tools, the team was able to determine that additional media stories that resulted from the Daily Mail story were primarily in international outlets and the social conversation was largely consumer disbelief with consumers standing up for their love of bacon while criticizing the comparison of eating red meat to smoking (see Chart 1 below). On Friday, October 23, IARC clarified that they did not release the findings early, nor was an embargo broken, and that they would release the conclusions on Monday. The team continued to monitor traditional and social media through the weekend to observe the trends and consistency of conversation – which largely went unchanged.

Chart 1: Friday Social Conversation 

Below is a map that shows the geolocation where IARC and red and processed meats were being talked about on social media. This does not account for everyone who is engaging online, as not everyone lists their geolocation on their social properties, but it provides some insight to where the chatter is centered. In addition, there is a timeline that shows the rises and falls of social media conversation throughout the day. The coverage peaked Friday evening from 8-9 p.m. when “Before its News” tweeted their article, then continued to decrease over the weekend until the announcement on Monday.


As expected, IARC published their conclusions on Monday, October 26 at 7 a.m. EST. As the Daily Mail had previewed, IARC placed processed meats in highest hazard category (Group 1, carcinogenic to humans) and red meat in the second highest category (Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans). Traditional media began to quickly escalate both domestically and internationally with major media outlets reporting on the news such as Reuters, AP, Bloomberg, Washington Post, USA Today and New York TimesThrough close monitoring of the breaking story, the team was able to determine that most of the initial media coverage included a quote or perspective from Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD, executive director of human nutrition at the  National Cattlemen’s Beef Association on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. Dr. McNeill conducted interviews with nearly every major print and broadcast outlet in the U.S. including CBS Evening News; CNNCNN International; Fox, Fox Business Network; NBC Nightly News; Associated Press Television, Reuters, New York Times, Fortune, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo, Mother Jones, Huffington Post and more. The North American Meat Institute was also widely quoted in traditional media coverage. 

Once traditional media began to increase, the volume of social media mentions quickly followed. Very quickly, this became the number one news story in the world, with the topic trending on traditional and social media on Monday. While most of the initial traditional and social media coverage early on Monday was simply major news outlets sharing their stories through their social platforms, consumers and other healthcare professionals began to weigh in much more heavily late Monday and on Tuesday, October 27, including healthcare professionals such as Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, who published an article, "Does Processed Meat Cause Cancer?" and Dr. Taylor Wallace who published "Meat Causes Cancer – the Counter Argument". Traditional media also began to explain the difference between “hazard” and “risk.” Some outlets criticized the media on Day 1, saying that IARC equating eating red and processed meat with smoking cigarettes was “sloppy journalism.”

Social sentiment continued similar to Day 1 with #bacon trending on Twitter, and consumers refusing to give up their beloved food items. Social analysis showed that consumer sentiment surrounding the study was critical of IARC, with consumers and media making statements such as, “everything causes cancer,” and “give me bacon or give me death.” Much of the conversation was focused on processed meats, rather than red meat. According to an independent media analysis conducted by Thompson Reuters and published in a Reuters story, negative tweets from people expressing disappointment at IARC outnumbered positive tweets of people who believed IARC by 7 to 1 and 6.5 to 1 on Monday and Tuesday, consecutively. Hashtags such as #FreeBacon #JeSuisBacon and #Baconggedon dominated social media conversations on Tuesday. These trends provided valuable information as it they allowed the team to gauge how consumers were feeling about the report. 

By Wednesday, October 28, social conversation had significantly declined and news satire organizations had started to pick-up the story, including The Onion, Huffington Post Comedy, The Shovel and Chicago Now. Even Stephen Colbert suggested that he wasn’t afraid of meat and smoked a bacon pipe.

By the end of the week, the World Health Organization issued a statement saying that "the latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats.” World Health Organization spokesperson Gregory Härtl told the Irish Times: that it was a "shortcoming” of IARC’s classification procedure which leads to tobacco, processed meats and arsenic being put in the same group. “We do not want to compare tobacco and meat because we know that no level of tobacco is safe,” he said. “We are not saying stop eating processed meats altogether” and "Do not cut out meats completely as it has nutrients” “Eat healthily means eating a balanced diet, too much of anything is not good.” 

Based on social sentiment, as well as traditional media sentiment, it seems reasonable to conclude that consumers will continue to enjoy red and processed meat as part of their overall diet. A public poll conducted by YouGov suggests that consumers were smart enough to see beyond the headlines and that they know that eating red and processed meat is not at all in the same camp as smoking. Read more about YouGov’s poll here. The findings from this poll indicate that the findings of the checkoff's ongoing traditional and social media analysis were accurate.

After the first day of coverage, volume declined each consecutive day. The week after IARC, social media mentions had dwindled down to fewer than 6,000 mentions, indicating that most of the attention had subsided. On Monday, November 2, the Daily Mail UK, who broke the original story, followed up with, “Why red meat can be GOOD for your health: After days of dire cancer warnings, take comfort in this expert analysis,” which reiterated that people should not give up red meat because it is a rich source of energy and essential nutrients. Based on traditional and social media analysis, we believe that consumers were smart enough to read beyond the headlines and we do not expect this report to have a long-term impact on consumer confidence or consumer demand for beef.

Chart 2: Social Conversations Week Over Week



Issues and Reputation Management is equal parts art and science and the beef checkoff has the tools and the team in in place to protect consumer confidence, and therefore consumer demand, in beef. The ability to serve-up a message, provide perspective or shift a strategy during an issue at the right time, is critical. The team uses all of the tools – traditional and social media monitoring, to inform on response efforts on a daily basis.

Additional Resources



Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Issues Monitoring, Winter 2015

December 21, 2015