Ranchers, Chick-fil-A adopt mad cow plans

PIERRE, SD: In the wake of the mad-cow-related headlines that grabbed the nation's attention in late 2003, the beef industry and even its competitors were reacting to the spate of coverage.

PIERRE, SD: In the wake of the mad-cow-related headlines that grabbed the nation's attention in late 2003, the beef industry and even its competitors were reacting to the spate of coverage.

Cattlemen in South Dakota took to the streets to tell consumers that American beef is safe. At the same time, fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, which specializes in chicken, grabbed favorable media attention for pulling ads that poked fun at beef.

Representatives of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association were at a major supermarket in Aberdeen last week, talking to consumers and giving out $5 Beef Bucks - coupons that could be used to buy beef. They raised money for the certificates from beef producers and local merchants.

"We're trying to go out and build consumer confidence," said Brian Brockel, president of the association. The hope is that its efforts will spread to other cattle-raising states. Cattlemen's groups from as far as Kansas have called to ask about the grassroots effort.

"We're hoping this will take off with other groups," said Aaron Vilhauera, secretary of the North Central Livestock Association, a group affiliated with the cattlemen's association.

Chick-fil-A garnered media attention as the year began when it told its restaurant operators to shelve planned in-store advertising poking fun at beef. The chain has run an ad campaign the past nine years that jokes about cows telling people to eat chicken instead of beef. But with mad cow in the news, "it's not the intention of Chick-fil-A to ever make fun of a health situation," said Jerry Johnston, senior manager of PR for the Atlanta-based chain.

Chick-fil-A didn't issue a release on its decision, but a story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution led to wire-service coverage of the move. "It surprised us the amount of media coverage we've received," Johnston said. "We hope we're taking the high road."

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