Meat industry counters PN claims that fear will persist

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

foot-and-mouth.



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

genetics.



'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.'



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