The Unhappy Meal: Santa Clara looks to ban unhealthy children’s meals with toys

April 28, 2010

An issues that been appearing off and on in the news for years has been childhood obesity in the U.S.  Kids in the U.S. eat unhealthy foods and generally weigh too much resulting in health problems.  The argument is that fast food restaurants target children with the marketing thereby encouraging them to eat unhealthy food.  Fast food restaurants spent over $1.6 billion in 2006 to target children.  One ploy is to put toys in the meals designed for children.  Children want the toys, children nag their parents, parents buy the meals, children eat unhealthy meal, and children become unhealthy.  We can argue with the links in this chain of logic but it is the fundamental argument in this case.  The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors considered a proposal that “the proposal would forbid the inclusion of a toy in any restaurant meal that has more than 485 calories, more than 600 mg of salt or high amounts of sugar or fat. In the case of McDonald’s, the limits would include all of the chain’s Happy Meals — even those that include apple sticks instead of French fries” (,0,6290206.story).

The idea is that the proposal would pressure fast food restaurants into creating more nutritious meal options for children.  A key concern is all the sodium, sugar, and fat that can be found in existing children’s meals.  Here is summary of the proposal from its creator:

“Ken Yeager, the Santa Clara County supervisor who is behind the effort, says the toys in kids’ meals are contributing to America’s obesity epidemic by encouraging children to eat unhealthful, fattening foods.  ‘People ask why I want to take toys out of the hands of children,’ said Yeager, who is president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. “But we now know that 70% of the kids that are overweight or obese will be overweight or obese as adults. Why would we want to burden anybody with a lifetime of chronic illness?’” (,0,6290206.story).

Every issue has at least two sides.  So who is arguing for unhealthy food that will children obese?  The answer is the California Restaurant Association (CRA) who see the issue differently.  Here is how their interpretation of the issue:

“’Ultimately, parents decide what their children eat and whether a meal includes a toy or not – that is the role of a parent,’ the CRA’s President + CEO Jot Condie said. ‘Based on our survey of the county’s residents, parents prefer to continue making those decisions, as opposed to following Supervisor Yeager’s proposal that would take that choice away. Saving us from our kids is overreaching. Most parents can resist their children’s pressure to get a toy. The county government does not need to serve as the parent of the parents.’

Most restaurants offer healthy options, such as fruit, sandwiches, milk, juice and water with kids’ meals. The variety of offerings continues to grow, but ultimately consumers want a choice in what items they can select for a kids’ meal when dining at a restaurant. Seventy-three percent of Santa Clara County residents agree that they should have the option of purchasing a meal at a restaurant that includes a toy or a gift.

“The restaurant industry works with policymakers every day to craft serious, comprehensive solutions to public health issues, including childhood obesity,” Condie said (

The CRA took their message to the people of Santa Clara through newspaper advertisements.  The CRA also conducted a poll and found that 80% of residents felt lawmakers should not be involved with this issue.  The poll had a sampling error no more than 4.1 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.  However, we do not know the exact wording of the question in the survey used for the poll ( 

While in isolation the toy ban does not seem like much of an issue.  It is a limited proposal covering a very small geographic area.  However, the larger issue of childhood obesity in the U.S. is a serious concern.  Moreover, the childhood obesity issue is repeatedly being linked to fast food restaurants so there is reason for the restaurant industry to be concerned.

Questions to Consider

  1.  How viable is the CSR response that food choice is the responsibility of parents?
  2. How do the marketing actions of restaurants undercut parental decision making about what their children eat?
  3. What are the ethical considerations of marketing to children?  Should restaurants adopt a code governing marketing to children that covers the healthiness of the food being promoted?
  4. Which side of the issue would you support and why?
  5. How was each side using public relations in this issue management effort?
  6. What is the benefit of the CRA managing the issue rather than individual fast food restaurants?
  7. How might the issue of childhood obesity be a serious threat to the reputations and sales of fast food restaurants?

Tis the Season for Boycotts: Gap and American Family Association

November 18, 2009

It is November so it is time for US conservative groups and pundits to bring up the “War on Christmas.”  Companies that have employees greet customers with “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” and/or use the term “holidays” in advertising rather than “Christmas” are put on the naughty list.  Yes, the American Family Association (AFA) calls it the “Naughty or Nice List” as it rates retailers on their use of Christmas.  Here is a description of the list:

“Criteria – AFA reviewed up to four areas to determine if a company was ‘Christmas-friendly’ in their advertising: print media (newspaper inserts), broadcast media (radio/television), website and/or personal visits to the store. If a company’s ad has references to items associated with Christmas (trees, wreaths, lights, etc.), it was considered as an attempt to reach “Christmas” shoppers.

If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word ‘Christmas,’ then the company is considered as censoring “Christmas.”

Color Code:

Company uses the term “Christmas” on a regular basis, we consider that company Christmas-friendly.

Company refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others.

Company may use ‘Christmas’ sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it.”

The conclusion is that if retailers do not use the word Christmas they are anti-Christmas and, therefore, anti-Christian.  AFA has every right to create their list and use public relations to share it with their members and supporters.  Retailers counter that the US market is diverse and “happy holidays” is more inclusive of a phrase.  So the choice is about inclusion and sensitivity to others for retailers rather than exclusion.  It seems odd that the old concern over exploiting Christmas for commercial gain has lost its appeal.  Retailers are now criticized for not exploiting Christmas.  It can get confusing.

In 2009, Gap became the initial target for the AFA.  They had an announcement about the Gap boycott on the web site and had their interactive site ready.  Go to and there is form to help spread the word about the boycott and a place to sign a boycott pledge.  There is also an explanation of the boycott at the site posted Nov. 11:

“AFA is calling for a limited two-month boycott of Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, the three stores owned by San Francisco-based Gap Inc., over the company’s censorship of the word ‘Christmas.’

The boycott is part of our ongoing campaign to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to put Christ back in Christmas. The boycott runs from November 1 through Christmas Day.

For years, Gap has refused to use the word Christmas in its television commercials, newspaper ads and in-store promotions, despite tens of thousands of consumer requests to recognize Christmas and in spite of repeated requests from AFA to do the same.

Last year, Gap issued this politically-correct statement to Christmas shoppers: ‘Gap recognizes that many traditions are celebrated throughout this season and we feel it is important to display holiday signage that is inclusive to everyone.’”

People visiting the site had mixed reactions to the boycott.  Here is a sample of the responses left on the page:

“11/13/2009 11:08:26 PM
Gap is marketing to all of America. Not just Christians. I think it is great that Gap is including all cultures in their celebration. America is a melting pot, after all. Does the Gap need to commercialize Christ for us to shop there?
11/13/2009 9:45:50 PM
Why is the AFA fighting for the materialism of Christmas? I would be pleased that companies are not using Christmas as a way to make money, instead the AFA promotes the materialism of one of our most sacred days. Sad.

11/13/2009 7:43:29 PM
I also support the boycott.”

But a funny thing happened along the way, Gap advertising did include Christmas along with a number of other holidays.  The television ad is complemented by a web site,, where people can send customized video singing greeting that includes one with Christmas (and the other holidays) in the message.,0,2040716.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fbusiness+%28L.A.+Times+-+Business%29

The AFA used this opportunity to declare victory over the Gap and express continued distaste with the Gap:

As a result of your actions, Gap has produced a television commercial that uses the word “Christmas.” Here are the words to the commercial:

“Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.

Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.

AFA believes this ad to be completely dismissive and disrespectful to those who celebrate the meaning and spirit of Christmas. AFA asked Gap for a meeting to discuss the ad, but Gap has not responded.

If this is Gap’s answer to recognizing Christmas, we are deeply disappointed.”  


Questions to Consider

  1.  Is it ethical for AFA to claim their actions changed Gap advertising when then ads would have been created long before the boycott started on November 11?
  2. What advice would you provide Gap management about responding to the AFA boycott and what is the reasoning behind that advice?
  3. How would you evaluate the reputational threat posed by the AFA boycott?
  4. How could issues management have helped the Gap anticipate and to prepare for 2009 AFA boycott?
  5. The Los Angeles Times article linked in the entry notes that the AFA boycotts have no financial effect.  What other effects are possible with a boycott?
  6. How does this US-based case reflect concerns associated with public relations going international?
  7. Are retailers hypocritical in exploiting Christmas without recognizing Christmas?

Graphic Images coming to US Cigarette Packs

September 1, 2009

The US is finally following countries like Canada, Australia, Chile, Iran, Brazil, and Singapore in placing graphic images of the ravages of smoking on cigarette packs.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will oversee the change.  Companies will have 18 months to place the images on the cigarette packs after the FDA creates the specific recommendations.  The entire process will take about three years.  The images will cover at least half the front and the back of the cigarette packs showing the health dangers from smoking.  The EU provided 42 graphic images for cigarette packs starting in 2004.

So why the graphic images?  The answer is to reduce cigarette smoking.

“Though hard to look at, the more graphic the image, the more effective in discouraging smoking, said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and director of the university’s Center for Tobacco Control, Research and Education. ‘The graphic warnings really work,” he said. “They substantially increase the likelihood someone will quit smoking. They substantially decrease the chances a kid will smoke. And they really screw up the ability of the tobacco industry to use the packaging as a marketing tool,’ he added, according to HealthDay News report.”

Currently about 21% of the US population smoking according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  Cigarette smoking is seen as one of the drains on US health care.  People are healthier and less costly if they do not smoke.  Now the graphics images will be used to chow people what can happened to them.  It is no longer just words but images of what can happen.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Would this effort qualify as a social marketing effort?
  2. The campaign is based on fear.  What is the problem of rely just on fear to change behaviors?
  3. How could Witte’s EPPM be used to create an effective message based upon the images on packages concept?  In other words, what other information and actions are needed to make the effort effective?
  4. Who are main stakeholders in this issue and what does each stand to gain or lose?
  5. Are there any ethical concerns about the graphic images on cigarette packages?
  6. How could this same tactic be applied to other public health issues?

Whole Foods+ CEO + Healthcare Debate = Boycott

August 15, 2009

Whole Foods has built a reputation around natural and organic foods.  Of course that quality does come at a price but their customers  are willing to pay the higher prices.  You could argue that Whole Foods is a cult brand with a core of devoted customers who sing its praises.  John Mackey is the CEO and does make life interesting for the public relations people at Whole Foods.  In 2007, it was revealed that Mackey, using the alias Rahodeb, was posting favorable comments and about Whole Foods and critical comments about rival Wild Oats (who Whole Foods was trying to buy) on blogs and other online postings sites. (   The Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation while whole Food banned him from blogging for a period of time.  He returned with this statement:

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to write in my blog again. Even though I wanted to respond openly and truthfully when confronted by the various accusations of wrongdoing last year, our attorneys and Board of Directors both thought it best for me to hold off while they conducted their Special Investigation and the SEC handled its inquiry. Those matters now are completed with the board affirming their complete support for me and the SEC recommending that no enforcement action be made against Whole Foods Market or me. Now that I’m free to post again, I am going to attempt to set the record straight about my internet postings in the past under the screen name “rahodeb.” I promise I’ll be moving on to other topics, but indulge me while I finally get to share my point of view on this particular topic.”

The post was a defense of his actions but ended with:

“I wish to apologize to all the stakeholders of Whole Foods Market—customers, Team Members, investors, suppliers, and our communities. I am truly sorry that all this has happened and put a negative spotlight on our company. If I could get a “do over” on this one, I certainly would choose not to have ever participated in the Yahoo! online financial communities. Unfortunately, I cannot undo the past. I can only learn the many valuable lessons that are here for me to learn and try to do better in the future. Thanks to all of you who have continued to support me and Whole Foods Market. I’m excited about what the next few years will bring as we fully integrate the Wild Oats stores and Team Members into Whole Foods Market, and expand our stores and our mission into additional communities while continuing to satisfy and delight our current customers.”

Flash forward of August of 2009.  John Mackey writes an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal about healthcare reform entitled “The Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare.” You can see the entire op-ed at Mackey identifies himself as co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods and uses the company’s name in the title of the op-ed.  The op-ed is a logical presentation of his ideas on how healthcare should be reformed and his concerns with the proposed changes. 

The response to Mackey’s op-ed has been mixed.  Many support his position.  Others take great exception to his words.  Those against Mackey have proposed a boycott of Whole Foods.  Their Facebook site quickly reached over 6,000 followers (  The liberal web site Daily Kos helped to promote the boycott as well  (   The marketplace of ideas was in full swing over the op-ed with both sides expressing their views on the issue. 

Whole Foods found itself sucked into the vortex of healthcare reform.  Not exactly the best place to be when you are not a company strongly affiliated with healthcare such as insurance or pharmaceuticals.  The following message appeared on the company’s Facebook page:

“We would like to thank our customers and shareholders who have let us know their thoughts regarding John Mackey’s op/ed in the Wall Street Journal. Many people, including John, feel passionately about this important issue.

First off, whether you agree with John or not, our 50,000+ Team Members who live and work in your communities will continue to work hard every day to bring you the best natural and organic products available. We hope you will continue to give us the opportunity to serve you.

While there are differing points of view on this issue, John believes certain aspects of the current proposals before Congress would jeopardize our company’s ability to continue providing our sustainable health insurance plan. Whole Foods Market pays 100 percent of the premiums for our full-time (over 30-hours) Team Members, about 89% of our workforce. Additionally, those Team Members get to vote for their new plan options every three years. John does not want to see that changed.

Finally, John absolutely does care about his fellow citizens who do not have health insurance, and he is in favor of health care reform. He believes that the proposals he put forth will provide access to sustainable health insurance for more people.

We recognize that there are many opinions on this issue, including inside our own company. As we all sort through this together, we thank you for sharing your opinions with us.”

Because of the op-ed, Whole Foods as a company is affected by the issue and issues management efforts.  As with his blogging, Mackey is creating reputational concerns that the public relations department will have to address.  The CEO is making like interesting for the public relations people.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Why did the op-ed create a reputational concern for Whole Foods?  Be sure to consider the characteristics of typical Whole Food consumers.
  2. Would you classify the situation as an incident or crisis and how would you justify that classification (Chapter )?
  3. If Mackey had suggested the op-ed at a meeting, what advice would you have given him and why?
  4. Would if have made any difference if Mackey had not identified himself so strongly with Whole Foods in the op-ed?
  5. After reviewing his op-ed, who would you evaluate it in terms of ethical advocacy?
  6. How might Mackey’s past lack of transparency have an impact on this situation?
  7. What messages might Whole Food create to address the situation?
  8. What was the utility in using Facebook for the response?
  9. What response might you anticipate from angry consumers to the Whole Foods message on Facebook?  Why would you anticipate that response?

Issues Management through Distortion

August 7, 2009

The health care debate of 2009 provides an almost endless supply of examples of public relations messages in action.  Health care is an issue with a vast number of constituents with varying interests and stakes in the issues.  As a result, there are an amazing amount of issues management efforts and messages appearing in traditional and online media.  No case can cover the entire debate so this case focus on one, minor point in the proposed health care reform:  advance directives.

Advance directives help people to spell out their wishes for life-extending measures related to severe brain damage and terminal illness scenarios.  Many people have living wills that provide such directives.  It is important for family members to know these desires so that a person’s wishes can be honored.  Family members may not be aware of an existing living will or try to disregard it thus creating a conflict.  In one version of the 2009 health care proposal, the government would pay for counseling sessions on advance directives.  These sessions are purely voluntary.  Unfortunately, the advance directive became a point of confusion and conflict.

Opponents distorted the advance directives proposal.  There were two key distortions:  (1) the counseling was mandatory every five years and (2) the proposal would promote euthanasia.   People were told they would be forced to meet with government representatives to discuss how they wanted to die.  The meetings were voluntary and with health care providers, no government representatives would be involved.  Advance directives were to be covered as a benefit people could choose to use or not.  Mandatory meetings with the government over end of life sounds very ominous as opposed to voluntary counseling sessions.  The distortion was designed to create fear.  The idea was to convert the fear into opposition to health care reform.  Politifact, a group of journalists that tries to assess the truth in political claims, considered the claim of mandatory meetings with government officials as incorrect  There is more on Politifact at the end of the case.


The worse distortion was the link to euthanasia.  Some opponents claimed the government, during these forced meetings, would tell you the best way to die and to encourage people to die earlier rather than later.  Critics claimed it “may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia” (   The justification was cost savings—the government wants you dead so that they can save on health care costs.  Some issue managers went as far as to call it “death care” and an effort to “kill Granny.”  This distortion is more clearly fear inducing.  Again, fear is created to generate opposition to the health care reform proposal.  Distortions are being used by issue managers on both sides of the health care reform issue to build support for their side of the issue.  This is not the only distortion but it is one of the most obvious.

So why would people be taken in by distortions over advance directives?  All rumors have a kern of truth and must seem plausible.  Advance directives counseling coverage is in the health care reform proposal—the kern of truth.  Most health care costs occur at the end of life so they are expensive and cost savings could occur if people died sooner or requested less care—plausible motive for government wanting to kill granny.  Add to this so many critics repeating the claims in traditional and online media and you have the potential for fear to spread.  And public relations is seen a fanning the flames of this fear.

“PolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times to help you find the truth in politics.

Every day, reporters and researchers from the Times examine statements by members of Congress, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in Washington. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True and False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.”

 Here is one more example is distortion from Sarah Palin as reported by the National Ledger.  The first paragraph is from Palin’s Facebook posting. 

“‘And who will suffer the most when they ration care?’ Palin asks in her online argument against the policy. ‘The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.'”

“The Washington Monthly writes, ‘As a substantive matter, this might be the stupidest thing ever written about health care policy. Just two weeks after she implored journalists to “quit making things up,’ Palin has manufactured the idea of a “death panel” out of thin air.”

For a funny but insightful look at the distortions around health care discussion see the August 10, 2009 Daily Show with Jon Stewart  He addresses the disruption of town hall meetings and the idea of “death panel.”

Questions to Consider:

  1.  How do each of the advance directives distortions violate guidelines for ethical risk communication (Chapter 11)?
  2. Why does public relations get connected to these distortions?
  3. What is the risk when distortion is used by issue managers to win support?
  4. How do such efforts feed into the negative perception of public relations (Chapter 2)?
  5. Who are some of the main constituents in the health care reform issue and what do they stand to gain or lose?
  6. How can the online media be used to both create and debunk distortion is risk communication and issues management?
  7. What happens to the marketplace of ideas when distortion substitutes for reasoned arguments?
  8. Does transparency provide any useful insights into problem of using distortion as an issues management strategy (Chapter 3)?  If so, what might they be?

Health Care, Issues Management, and Transparency

August 5, 2009

The summer of 2009 has jump started the health care debate in the U.S.  People debate various plans to help provide health care to the millions in the U.S. who lack health insurance.  It is a vital issue that warrants public discussion.  Public relations can help build the marketplace of ideas (Chapter 3) by providing communication vehicles for various sides.  This is the realm of issues management.  The health care debate is issues management at its best and worst.  The worst comes in the form of front groups that hide their bias and provide information that can kindly be called misleading.  (See an earlier debate about twisting risk communication in this debate).

The Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights sounds like group designed to help patients.  Here is a sample from their about section:

“The Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights is a nonpartisan, grassroots coalition of patients, healthcare professionals, advocacy groups, and engaged citizens who are concerned about the current healthcare debate going on in Washington.

Agreeing that more must be done to reign in healthcare costs and provide affordable access to healthcare for uninsured Americans, the Coalition believes that the private sector can and must be involved in healthcare reform.  Recognizing that each of us are different and have different healthcare needs, we support choice and options in our healthcare – not a one-size fits all approach that simply provides everyone with the same level of substandard care.  The Coalition also believes that all medical decisions must be left to the patient and doctor.  We believe that allowing a government bureaucrat to exercise any authority over personal healthcare decisions would lead to diminished quality of life for all Americans.”
Now people might take” issue” that the about section implies that the U.S. government will take over healthcare and be the sole insurer in the U.S.  Of the plans being discussed, that is not at the top of the list or even a realistic option as of August 2009.  So there is some implied distortion.  What is problematic is the lack of transparency provided  by  The Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights.  The group was developed by the DCI Group.  The DCI Group is a lobbying firm with a history of creating front groups (  As The Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights sends out editorial and op eds, gains friend on Facebook, and has visitors at its web site, there is no indication who this group really represents.  What corporations or industry groups are paying the bill.  By definition, front groups lack transparency.  At best The Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights is an example of astroturfing.  The organization was created to generate grassroots opposition to certain health insurance initiatives.  The organization was not a spontaneous development from constituents.  The organization was built by a communication/PR agency.  Here is how the DCI Group defines itself:

“DCI Group is a strategic public affairs and global issues management firm. We use a campaign-style approach to help corporations, trade associations, and nonprofit organizations address their most critical communications and public policy challenges.”


For the lighter side, see Steven Colbert discuss the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights as “the word” August 4, 2009 at—hippie-replacement.


Questions to Consider:

  1.  What are the ethical concerns for PR when engaging in astroturfing?
  2. Why does it matter who is funding The Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights?
  3. How do front groups serve to undermine the issues management process?
  4. How does a demand for transparency protect issues management and the marketplace of ideas?
  5. What about the online environment (Chapter 7) makes it easier to create an effective front group?
  6. Does it seem odd that a PR agency with known connection to front groups is also Bronze Anvil award winner from the Public Relations Society of America? 
  7. How exactly might transparency be used to combat front groups especially in the online environment?
  8. Can The Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights appear to be working as social marketing  (Chapter 8) and what advantage does that offer to its issues management efforts?

Hot Dogs as Issues Management and Risk Communication

August 3, 2009

Many products do carry warning labels including cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription drugs.  The warnings include health risks (cigarettes and alcohol) and side effects (prescription drugs).  But what about a warning label on hot dogs and other processed meat read:  “Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.”  The non-profit organization Cancer Project is prosing such warning labels become law thereby initiating an issues management contest when they filed a lawsuit request the labels.  As noted in Chapter 10 on issues management, various groups are involved with an issue because they have something to win and/or something to lose.

The Cancer Project frames their position as public health.  They would consider their actions as social marketing (Chapter 8).  The warning Is sought because of the link between consuming processed meat and some forms of cancer.  As reported in the LA Times:  “‘Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer,’ says Neal Barnard, president of the Cancer Project and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University medical school in Washington, D.C. ‘Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information,’ he added, reports Times writer Jerry Hirsch,1,2946755.story.

Here is an excerpt from the Cancer Project News Release:

“WASHINGTON—Three New Jersey residents are suing Nathan’s Famous, Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer, Sara Lee, Con Agra Foods, and Marathon Enterprises for failing to warn consumers that hot dogs increase the danger of colorectal cancer. The action comes in the wake of landmark scientific studies linking hot dogs and similar meats to colon cancer.

The class-action consumer fraud lawsuit, which is being filed July 22 in Superior Court in Essex County, seeks to compel all five companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. The labels would read ‘Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.’”

The Cancer Project describes itself as follows:  The Cancer Project is a collaborative effort of physicians, researchers, and nutritionists who have joined together to educate the public about the benefits of a healthy diet for cancer prevention and survival. Based in Washington, D.C., The Cancer Project is an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

As you might guess the producers of the products disagree with the Cancer Project.  Here is a sample response:  “These proposals are unfounded. Hot dogs have been enjoyed by consumers for more than 100 years,” said Sydney Lindner, a Kraft spokeswoman (from,1,2946755.story).  The hot dog and sausage industry generated sales of over $3.4 billion in the US in 2008.  So this is a serious issue to the producers. 

The American Meat Institute (AMI), one of the industry groups that represent processed meat, claims that the Cancer Project is pro-vegetarian, animal rights group with nothing more than a nuisance lawsuit.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (food and drink front groups mentioned in an earlier post) go further by calling the Cancer Project an animal rights groups and the lawsuit as frivolous. (


Scientists feel the link between processed meat and cancer is very complex and warning labels may not be the best course of action.   In other words, there is no agreement on how to address the issue of processed meat being a potential health risk.  However, there is a risk that warrant communication.  Risk communication is the topic of Chapter 11.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Is the Cancer Project really working for the public interest/safety?  Why or why not?
  2. Why should it matter if constituents see the Cancer Project as engaged in social marketing as they attempt to manage the issue?
  3. What is the “real” evidence that connects processes meat to colon cancer?
  4. Are either side making exaggerated claims that could be viewed as unethical?  If yes, provide some examples.
  5. What are the costs to constituents and PR if the claims are exaggerated?
  6. Is the Cancer Project using risk communication is a responsible/ethical manner? 
  7. Does the industry response show respect for constituents and responsible/ethical risk communication?
  8. Who are the various actors in this issue and what is each one’s primary stake in this issues management effort?
  9. What is the role of transparency (Chapter 3) in this case?

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