Mad Cows and Mother's Milk

Mad Cows and Mother's Milk: The Perils of Poor Risk Communication

Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 2
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Mad Cows and Mother's Milk
    Book Description:

    The first case study deals with the mad cow fiasco of 1996, one of the most expensive and tragic examples of poor risk management in the last twenty-five years. For ten years the British government failed to acknowledge the possibility of a link between mad cow disease and Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent, until increased scientific evidence and public pressure forced them to take action, resulting in the slaughter of more than one million cattle. The second study looks at what is commonly known as hamburger disease, caused by a virulent form of the E. coli bacterium, which has struck thousands and killed over thirty people in the last few years. Despite its widespread effects, it is unclear whether scientific knowledge on preventing the disease is reaching the public. Other case studies include the use of a genetically engineered hormone to increase milk production in cows, health risks associated with silicone breast implants, public controversies surrounding dioxins and PCBs, and the introduction of agricultural biotechnology.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6664-4
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    D. P. and W. L.
  4. 1 Mad Cows or Crazy Communications?
    (pp. 3-25)

    On 20 March 1996, British Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell rose in the House to inform colleagues that scientists had discovered a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in ten victims, and that they could not rule out a link with consumption of beef from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.²

    Overnight, the British beef market collapsed, and politicians learned how to enunciate the names of the diseases. Within days, the European Union banned exports of British beef; consumption of beef fell throughout Europe, especially in France and Germany, and in Japan, where suspicion of...

  5. 2 A Diagnostic for Risk Communication Failures
    (pp. 26-40)

    Problems in communicating about risks originate primarily in the marked differences that exist between the two languages used to describe our experience with risks: the scientific and statistical language of experts on the one hand and the intuitively grounded language of the public on the other, as shown in figure 2.1. This contrast can easily be misunderstood: “expert assessment” simply means that some group or individual has brought specialized knowledge to bear on a risk issue, usually by referring to published scientific literature and by using technical terminology (toxicology, epidemiology, statistics and probability, and so on). In this sense people...

  6. 3 Dioxins, or Chemical Stigmata
    (pp. 41-76)

    Our society’s experience with understanding and managing risks associated with dioxins, in the period beginning with the early 1970s, could teach us a great deal about how to handle risk issues in general. But to date it has not done so. Consider the fate of the first epigraph, from a statement by a U.S. regulatory scientist; her description of dioxin as “by far the most toxic compound known to mankind” inspired a kind of journalistic mantra in later news stories about events associated with dioxins.² There are actually many different meanings that could be implied by this phrase. Here are...

  7. 4 Hamburger Hell: Better Risk Communication for Better Health
    (pp. 77-98)

    On 11 January 1993 two-year-old Michael Nole ate a cheeseburger as part of a “$2.69 Kid’s Meal” at the Jack-in-the-Box restaurant on South 56th Street in Tacoma, Washington. The next night Michael was admitted to Children’s Hospital and Medical Centre in Seattle, and ten days later he died of kidney and heart failure.² Two more children in the Pacific Northwest, as well as another child in California, subsequently died after being exposed to someone who ate at a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant. When it was all over, there were over 700 confirmed and probable cases in this outbreak of food-borne illness connected...

  8. 5 Silicone Breasts: The Implant Risk Controversy
    (pp. 99-120)

    In May 1995 Dow Corning Corp. announced that it was seeking bankruptcy protection in response to rapidly escalating numbers of compensation claims for alleged harms suffered by women who had been surgically fitted with the silicone breast implants manufactured by the company. The company had been found liable for large awards by juries who were convinced by the testimony of women and their physicians that a whole range of health problems was caused by the implants manufactured by Dow Corning and several of its competitors.

    One of the first of these lawsuits had been brought over ten years earlier in...

  9. 6 Lost in Regulatory Space: rBST
    (pp. 123-152)

    At 10 A.M. on 23 January 1996, the Chicago-based Cancer Prevention Coalition and the Vermont-based environmental group Food and Water held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to release a study that concluded that “milk from cows injected withrBGHincreases risks of breast and colon cancers in humans.”¹

    The study, authored by Dr Samuel Epstein, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, was a review of research relating to the carcinogenic potential of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1 ) in humans...

  10. 7 Gene Escape, or the Pall of Silence over Plant Biotechnology Risk
    (pp. 153-181)

    The use of chemical inputs into agricultural food production has a lengthy history. As early as 1000 B.C. the Chinese used sulphur as a fumigant. In the sixteenth century arsenic-containing compounds were utilized as insecticides. By the 1930s the production of modern synthetic chemicals commenced. With the onset of World War II there was a rapid increase in the production and use of chemical substances such as DDT, used for control of insect-transmitting malaria. The postwar era marked the start of the modern agrochemical industry, and as a direct result of technical advancements in chemical production during this period, various...

  11. 8 Mother’s Milk: Communicating the Risks of PCBs in Canada and the Far North
    (pp. 182-209)

    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is the common name for a family of chlorinated hydrocarbon compounds used in a wide range of industrial and consumer products for about forty years. The commercial manufacture of PCBs began in the United States in 1929 in response to concern over the risk of fires created by oil-filled transformers and capacitors. The increasing occurrences of fires caused by power surges igniting mineral oil prompted the electrical industry to search for an alternative dielectric (isolating) fluid. Beginning in the 1930s a generic fluid called “askarel” -containing from 40 to 70 per cent PCBs -was introduced as a...

  12. 9 Ten Lessons
    (pp. 210-226)

    As the people wandered in the desert, fretting about risks, and the voices clamouring for relief grew, the elders retained three consultants to examine some entrails and tell them what to do.

    The Diagnosis:“Your people suffer from severe ignorance.”

    The Referral:“ You must see a risk expert at once.”

    The Medicine:“My cathartic of comparative risk statistics should do the trick.”

    The Specialist’s Bedside Chatter:“Lady, if you really must worry about something, worry about peanut butter, not nuclear power.”

    The Patient’s Response:“Don’t patronize me, you arrogant bastard!”

    The Prognosis:The patients won’t take the medication. So...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 227-236)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 237-276)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-303)
  16. Index
    (pp. 304-308)