Will the food and drinks industry and themedia ever be a perfect partnership?

If not, why not? When did it all start togo wrong?

Concern over food irradiation, a number offood-poisoning scares in the 1980s, the 'Eggwina Curry' episode and the'Listeria Hysteria' phenomenon were all triggers for the deterioratingrelationship. The national outcry over contaminated chicken flocks and a number ofmiscarriages attributed to the consumption of soft cheese turned the media spotlightfirmly on the food industry.

The exposure of a possible link between BSEin cattle and CJD in humans did the meat industry no favours, and, once most of the cattlethat might remotely be suspected of carrying the disease had been slaughtered, along comesthe GMO issue and the tidal wave gathers momentum.

Somewhere among these events was theso-called McLibel affair - a global brand (McDonald's) taking a postman and abartender to court to answer an accusation of libel. The case lasted 313 days in court,involved calling 130 witnesses and included 40,000 pages of evidence. Only McDonalds canjudge whether it was worth it for them-but what was the cost to the rest of the food anddrinks industry?

The activities of Greenpeace, Friends ofthe Earth and Compassion in World Farming, the influence of the Internet and the growingconsumer demand for organically grown food cannot carry the full burden of responsibilityfor the failing relationship. It can equally be attributed to the increasing incidence offood allergies, product recalls, confusing legislation, cases of contamination of foodproducts with foreign bodies, E Numbers, the role of Brussels and the delay in setting upthe Food Standards Agency.

The food industry in the UK is among thebest in the world. So why does it receive such negative publicity? And what does it haveto do to mend the rift?

Media Madness, a one-day conference to beheld at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in London on Friday 3rd December, will addresssome of these issues. Key speakers from the broadsheet, middle market newspapers, theRadio 4 Food Programme, the ITN News team, Greenpeace and the MAFF Press Office willaddress some of the issues, and representatives from the food and drinks industry canestablish new media strategies for next year and beyond.

If you are a senior food/drinksmanufacturing or retailing manager or executive, this conference is designed for you. Canyou afford to miss it?

You can obtain full conference details fromLeatherhead Food RA, +44 (0)1372 376761 or visit our Web Site www.lfra.co.uk and secure a discounted reservation.

By Tony Hines MBE, Conference Chairmanof Leatherhead International's Media Madness and Crisis Management Manager