I have been passively watching the mad cow story for the last several weeks. I have been incredibly impressed by the masterful response of the cattlemen in the face of such a potential blow to the industry and their power. They have done everything right.
This is an absolutely amazing story of a coalition response to a possible agenda trigger event. The cattle industry had done a full blown rapid response plan to control multiple media cycles and the policy implications that would trickle down from the first US infection. It is a relevant case study of network advocacy in motion.
The larger question is why the environmental and organic community did not have an effective counter punch to push for tighter controls on the industry overall. Why was there not more attention to past quotes that voluntary compliance would keep mad cow out of the US. The debates was quickly framed as an industry in control. The calls for stronger tracking of unit movement, regulation of kill floors, exposure of the industrialization of beef production, air-pollution issues, anti-biotic abuse and waste management were not effectively injected into the debate. The momentum has already shifted and respect for cattle industry increased in the wake of a major event such as the mad cow crossing into the US and making it into the food supply.
As has been pointed out here before, the environmental movement has no coordinated rapid attack (or response) capacity for mad cow or any other predictable crisis (cancer clusters, oil platform, spills, fires, floods, etc. ) The movement does not plan to pivot advocacy strategy on the events that dominate the political and policy landscape. Our organizations and funders remain tied to step-by-step campaigns in a world that is increasingly dominated policy windows that open and shut in an erratic sequence hopelessly tied to media cyclones.
I would love to see the written basic response plan that they used.
This article gives us a glimpse of very smartly planned and by the book network response.
1. when a crisis surfaced that struck directly at beef sales, it had a plan.
2. Washington lobbyists began tracking down members of Congress, who were home for the holidays, and discussing the response with officials at the Agriculture Department.
3. Message volume and messenger saturation Teams of experts in all 50 states were made available to the news media to get out the group's message.
4. Electronic response ready to go. And the association posted a Web page, created years ago but held in reserve, to educate the public.
5. Pre-identified ideals and acceptable compromises laid out The initial response was the first line of defense for an industry facing the largest test of its clout in years. It then embraced regulations imposed by the Agriculture Department on Tuesday, including an about-face on a provision the industry had long opposed and had defeated in the House earlier this year.
6. All staff off tasked to event management
7. Enabled other message surrogates to carry the message. (officials at the Agriculture Department, including Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Congress as the industry sought to gather and disseminate information. I would assume they had talking points, fact sheets, images and visuals that projected a story that this was a small problem and that the industry has a record of concern and management of the issues.
8. Amazing spin control moving focus off all industry work against the very legislation that would have helped prevent the outbreak in the past. (counter to quote) Mr. Keys said the association made a steadfast effort at transparent communication with consumers about the diseased cow and the safety of the meat supply. They also continued to hammer the myth that the industry is related to small family farms.
9. A strategy to slow the pace of reform (until it is a page three story)"We want to make sure that anything we do has a practical and real effect," Mr. Keys said. "We don't want to do things that are window dressing and political posturing. When you succumb to that kind of thing, it always bites you."
10. Political activism : Cattle and livestock interests have given almost $22 million to political campaigns since the 1990 elections, with three-quarters going to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance.
Kudos to the cattlemen. A job well done.