WASHINGTON: Two meat industry trade groups are disputing the
findings of a study by Porter Novelli on consumer confusion over bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and foot-and-mouth disease.
PN is charging that the complexity of the science has generated fear in
consumers that won't easily be alleviated. The agency's survey of 815
primary food shoppers reveals that 14% of consumers say they have
changed their food purchasing habits because of fears of BSE and
Confusion between the diseases is clearly a problem, as 19% of those
surveyed thought the two were one and the same. While BSE can affect
humans, foot-and-mouth normally does not, and the diseases are not
linked in any way.
While both the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the
American Meat Institute (AMI) agree that consumers are confusing the two
diseases, the NCBA said its own surveys show that people believe the
meat they are eating is safe. NCBA's April 18 survey of 100 American
adults shows a 93% awareness of BSE among those polled, with confidence
in the safety of US beef expressed by 85%.
'There is no doubt there is confusion, we see it everywhere,' said Janet
Riley, AMI's VP of public affairs. She said even the media is confused
and her job has involved educating reporters. 'I got a call from a
reporter who normally covers restaurants and now has to cover BSE.' But
she said that red-meat consumption is on the rise in the US, and that
consumer polls are poor indicators of actual consumption.
Rob Gould, partner and director of PN's US healthcare practice, said the
complexity of animal diseases has generated misunderstanding. He also
said that people have grown skeptical of the benefits of scientific
advancements in food, just as they have in other areas, such as
'My feeling is it's not just about food fear and what is going on with
foot-and-mouth and BSE,' he said.
Established institutions may not be effective in combating those
concerns, because they do not understand the need to take into account
people's shifting attitudes. 'It is quite possible that the existing
academic, government industry sectors are not going to be sufficient to
handle this,' said Bill Layden, PN's SVP of food and nutrition.
'We are going to have to come up with better ways to engage the public,'
Gould said. 'I don't know where that exists.'