Barbecued ‘dog’ stunt masks a more serious issue campaign

PETA's recent barbecued dog stunt may have raised some eyebrows, but it's a sign of an issues campaign wider than the animal activist group, writes crisis management expert Tony Jaques.

A stunt by PETA to barbecue a fake dog in the CBD of Sydney last week created predictably outraged headlines around the world. PETA’s message was: “If you wouldn’t eat a dog, why eat a lamb?”

However the barbecue street theatre was just the ‘click bait’ end to a much more serious international effort to force less consumption of red meat.

Tabloid journalism thrives on an endless supply of stories about the latest food fad or dubious diet, often linked to some photogenic celebrity. And we are all too familiar with proposals to tax sugary drinks – supposedly to combat obesity.

Less well known is the organised offensive against meat and the growing calls for a meat tax, said to be driven by concerns over health, under-nutrition and climate change.

Regardless of your view on more meat, less meat or going vegan, there are important lessons in issue management to be taken from this determined campaign.

Last month the British journal The Lancet published the “planetary health diet” proposed by the EAT-Lancet Commission “to improve health and avoid potentially catastrophic damage to the planet.” The report recommended a maximum of 14 grams of red meat a day, or about one hamburger patty a week, as well as no more than one and a half eggs per week and similar restrictions on fish and chicken.

PETA’s campaign was just one symptom of a wider global shift towards eating fewer animal products | Photo by José Ignacio Pompé on Unsplash

Then, last week The Lancet followed up with a report from their Commission on Obesity spelling out how taxes, bans and regulation should be used to achieve this dramatic change towards a largely plant-based diet. The Commission also proposed a $1 billion taxpayer-funded war-chest for lobbying and social advocacy to help “create public pressure for healthy policies”.

In a scathing analysis in The Spectator, Christopher Snowdon of the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs claimed the red meat issue campaign is following the well-proven blueprint developed by the anti-smoking lobby. He says the international Lancet Commission sees the problem as the undue influence of transnational food and beverage makers, and the solution as higher taxes and more state control.

“Rather than deal with awkward politicians in liberal democracies” Snowdon argues, “they intend to bypass the electorate entirely and focus on the least accountable of global institutions [such as the World Health Organisation, the European Union, and the Pacific Forum] to use their constitutional provisions to develop legally binding agreements.”

Specifically, the Commission proposes a Framework Convention on Food modelled directly on the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which helped drive the campaign against smoking and cigarette advertising. The FCTC, which came into force in 2005, is one of the most widely supported treaties in the history of the United Nations.

Although the Commission on Obesity report accepts that “food clearly differs from tobacco because it is a necessity to support life,” the issue management strategy is clearly stated. They want more taxes on food, more advertising restrictions, a ban on new takeaway food outlets in some areas and “the banning and pariah status of key products.” And they see it as a global crusade.

So while it may be easy to discount the PETA ‘dog’ barbecue in Sydney as a headline-grabbing stunt, there is no doubt that a planned and persistent campaign to drastically change what we eat is well under way.

This piece first appeared in Tony Jaques’ Managing Outcomes newsletter. You can subscribe here.


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