Judge and Jury: Why spilling the milk ’scare’ to the press could all end in tears - Tesco and Sainsbury’s captured the high ground with a speedy response to the latest food scare, says Graham Paskett, managing director of Paskett P

We’ve heard Edwina Currie cracking open the debate about salmonella in eggs. BSE continues to claim victims and cause problems for farmers and food retailers.

We’ve heard Edwina Currie cracking open the debate about salmonella

in eggs. BSE continues to claim victims and cause problems for farmers

and food retailers.



E-coli was another genuine disaster. The debate about genetically

modified foods continues to rage. Now we have major newspaper,

television and radio stories linking milk to Crohn’s Disease.



The story began with the announcement last Monday by the Government that

one-fifth of pasteurised milk samples from 16 dairies in Northern

Ireland contained traces of an organism that causes Johne’s Disease -

inflammation of the bowels in cows.



Doctors are divided over whether there is any link between Crohn’s and

the organism that is know to cause the disease in cows. And the

Department of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

and the National Association for Crohn’s disease claimed the health risk

was minimal to non-existent, but still the media couldn’t resist. A

quick scan of a few headlines, such as the Independent’s ’Ban raw milk

now, say campaigners’ gives a rather different spin to the story.



Tesco and Sainsbury’s were at the forefront of the retail response, and

got in with remarkable speed. On the evening of the initial

announcement, news bulletins quoted their precautionary decisions to ask

suppliers to increase the length of the pasteurisation process as part

of the first ’scare’ story. The message was then carried throughout the

national media on the following day.



Others, such as Marks and Spencer and Waitrose were playing it cool,

saying they had no such plans to change the pasteurisation process.



It seems to me that the ’milk scare’ is more in the minds of the

headline writers than on the slides of scientists’ microscopes, but it

is the supermarkets and dairy companies who have to take action.



That is a good example of PR risk management, and hats off to both

Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s PR teams for an excellent pre-emptive strike

designed to put their customers’ minds at rest.



It just makes me wonder at times whether all the food scares are what

they are ’hyped’ up to be. In the final analysis, it is usually the

supermarkets and other retailers who shoulder the burden of comforting

customers.



We all need food. Of course we all must know facts when situations

develop that have a potential impact on our health. The danger of hype

without foundation is the risk of crying wolf.



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