National Poll Finds Consumers Not Overreacting to Incident of Mad Cow Disease

WASHINGTON -- Even after weeks of intense and emotionally charged coverage by the news media, a poll study released today shows that mad cow disease does not even rank among the top two food-related health concerns.

The survey, commissioned by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), examined the public's attitude toward a list of food-related health concerns, and found that "food poisoning" and "foodborne bacteria" -- issues dealing with food storage and preparation -- remain the greatest concerns. "Mad cow disease" ranked just higher than "irradiated meat" and "cloned foods."

Tim Hammonds, president and CEO of FMI, which represents the retail and wholesale food industry, says the poll results "substantiate that Americans inherently trust the safety of the U.S. food supply and realize the risk of contracting mad cow disease is extremely remote. It also supports what large grocery store chains are seeing -- consumers are still eating beef."

In addition, 22 percent of respondents cited the media coverage as being "negatively biased." There is also evidence that this bias may have inadvertently contributed to confusion over how mad cow disease is contracted. When asked what part of the cow becomes infected, less than 29 percent of adults correctly identified the brain, spine or nervous system. Conversely, the majority of Americans (54 percent) either did not know what part becomes infected or provided an incorrect response (such as all cow meat).

Wilson Research Strategies, an opinion research firm headquartered in McLean, Va., conducted two nationwide surveys of 766 adults Dec. 4-8, 2003 and Jan. 5-8, 2004. Both studies have margin or errors of +/-3.6 percent at the 95 percent confidence interval.

Source: Wilson Research Strategies

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