NEWS: Forced open government is the real cause of the beef crisis

Last Friday I had a magnificent steak for lunch. On Saturday I took my garden refuse to the dump by car. I gave the risks attached to the latter not a moment’s thought, even though nearly 4,000 people are killed each year in road accidents. But many think I was stupidly tempting fate ordering beef, even though last year only 40 people died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and there is no direct evidence of a link between it and so-called mad cow disease (BSE). Therein lies a problem for the PR industry. The public - encouraged by the media - takes an irrational view of risks. It also seems to believe that the human race should no longer evolve, as it always has, by trial and error. Somebody must be blamed - then sued at the taxpayers’ expense.

Last Friday I had a magnificent steak for lunch. On Saturday I took my

garden refuse to the dump by car. I gave the risks attached to the

latter not a moment’s thought, even though nearly 4,000 people are

killed each year in road accidents. But many think I was stupidly

tempting fate ordering beef, even though last year only 40 people died

from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and there is no direct evidence of

a link between it and so-called mad cow disease (BSE). Therein lies a

problem for the PR industry. The public - encouraged by the media -

takes an irrational view of risks. It also seems to believe that the

human race should no longer evolve, as it always has, by trial and

error. Somebody must be blamed - then sued at the taxpayers’ expense.



Hence the Government witch-hunt over BSE, even though it has handled the

problem as responsibly as the age allows ever since it emerged ten years

ago. It did what any reputable organisation would have done: it banned

the most likely cause and continuously monitored expert advice on the

necessary subsequent action.



Until last week, my understanding, as an inveterate beef eater, was that

there was no evidence that BSE could cross the species to emerge as CJD

in man. The Government could not categorically rule it out, given the

imperfect state of this branch of science. But any risk was minimal and

was being progressively reduced over time by the elimination from their

feed of the most likely cause of the BSE epidemic in cattle and the

treatment of beef carcasses. In this way, the Government, properly

balancing national and commercial interests, managed a tricky situation,

given public and media paranoia and irresponsible scaremongers among

scientists.



Then last week the Government admitted the possibility - no more - of a

connection between BSE and some CJD sufferers, though there was still

‘no direct evidence of a link’. And the world went bonkers. Against this

background, the hard question for all PR people is whether the

Government, knowing the built-in tendency for the public to be panicked

by a variety of agents, should have uttered a word last week. In short,

was it open to a fault?



This brings me back to my claim that the Government has handled the

issue ‘as responsibly as the age allows’. The sad truth is that the

world is full of self-righteous, know-all publicity hounds, who get a

ready hearing from a conspiracy-driven media regardless of their

standing or motives. So authority, seeking to control situations,

prefers to volunteer rather than react defensively to damaging leaks.

The beef industry now knows the cost of this sort of forced open

government.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.