BELGIUM, Brussels 13th BMO Roundtable focuses on press reporting of meat consumption.
Belgium is a country of meat eaters, and consuming meat is a firm part of the food culture. Belgium traditionally produces more meat than it consumes per capita, meaning that export markets are of particular importance for the agricultural and food industries.
At the 13th Roundtable organised by the Belgian Meat Office (BMO
) in Brussels, around 30 trade journalists from seven EU member states discussed issues related to meat consumption in Europe. For the host, BMO Managing Director René Maillard, nutrition and health issues, animal welfare, the environment and the ethics of animal production are the key issues of the day. The meat processing industry must find answers to these challenges if the consumption of meat, meat products and sausage is to have a future. The export of these commodities is of enormous economic importance for Belgium. Under the umbrella of the Flanders' Agricultural Marketing Office (VLAM), the task of the BMO is to stimulate meat sales.
The consumption of meat has been subjected to critical scrutiny repeatedly since the end of the 19th century. This was pointed out by Prof. Dr. Frédéric Leroy of the Free University of Brussels (VUB
). The scientist has sifted through reports on meat nutrition and meat-free alternatives in daily newspapers, online portals and social networks. The problem he faced, however, is that only extracts of nutritional studies are ever quoted. Thus, eating meat is sometimes regarded as good, sometimes as bad. The same applies to vegetarian and vegan products. "Nutrition topics make great headlines for the media," Leroy concluded, while noting that "it is virtually impossible to tell just from reading whether the article is 'fake news' or not." This unsettles readers and could turn them to other products. Leroy recommended that meat-processing companies should finally embrace the instant information provided by digital media.
Dr. Philippe Houdart from the Belgian Food Agency (FASFC
) is all too aware of this challenge. Citing the fraud cases involving Fipronil and the meat processing company Veviba, the crisis manager of the Belgian Food Safety Authority described the difficulty involved in striking a balance between maintaining a news blackout and providing information. As long as there is no danger to consumer health, only limited amounts of information should be offered. This is important if the police investigation is not to be endangered, even if the public's thirst for details is not satisfied.