Mad Cows and Mother's Milk, Second Edition

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

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    Mad Cows and Mother's Milk, Second Edition
    Book Description:

    Communicating the nature and consequences of environmental and health risks is still one of the most problematic areas of public policy in Western democracies. "Mad Cows and Mother's Milk" outlines the crucial role of risk management in dealing with public controversies and analyses risk communication practice and malpractice to provide a set of lessons for risk managers and communicators. This second edition adds new case studies on mad cow disease in North America, climate change, and genetics technologies. The first of the new case studies brings the story of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in the United Kingdom in the 1980s up-to-date. Mad cow disease is still being discovered in UK herds and cases of mad cow disease have been found in twenty countries across the European continent and as far away as Japan with devastating consequences for the food industry. BSE has now been discovered on the North American continent in two cows born in Canada. The original cause of these two new cases is almost certainly importation of infected cattle, cattle feed, or both from Britain. Canadian government regulators and those in the cattle industry have failed to correctly assess the risks of the disease in the Canadian herd, take the precautionary measures needed to prevent the spread of disease, and communicate risks and precautionary measures to the public. The second new study deals with global warming. Not only is every aspect of this risk debate both contentious and difficult for the public to understand but the potential consequences of the risks extend all the way to global catastrophe for human civilization. A new chapter outlines the many dimensions of risk debate in the context of the need for effective and sustained dialogue by an informed public. The last new case study provides an introduction to genomic science, which is placed in the context of both the health benefits expected from genetic manipulation and some of the risk factors associated with it. One example is gene therapy, which can be used to eliminate inherited genetic diseases (i.e. cystic fibrosis), enhance human traits (i.e. athletic performance), and perhaps double life-spans. Gene technologies are relevant to some of the most fundamental human values. This new chapter suggests that we must think about the range of new risks introduced by these technologies as well as the potential benefits - and that we should do this collective thinking soon, since, given the furious pace of genomics discoveries, the possibilities will be with us sooner than we imagine. All of the case studies emphasize the need for effective communication about risks to allow effective dialogue by informed publics on health and environmental risks.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7240-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)
    D.P. and W.L.
  4. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    W. L

    • 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...

    • 2 A Diagnostic for Risk Communuication 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...

    • 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...

    • 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...

    • 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...


    • 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, B.C., to release a study that concluded that “milk from cows injected with rBGH increases 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-i (IGF-I) in humans and...

    • 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 19308 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...

    • 8 Mother’s Milk: Communicating the Risks 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...

    • 9 Ten Lessons
      (pp. 210-226)

      In chapter 2 we depicted the emergence of good risk communication practice as a three-phase process. Phase one was influenced by the risk expert's belief that educating the public about risk assessment methods and statistical outcomes would allow publicly acceptable risk management to be based squarely on comparative risk numbers. The bottom line was: the higher the confirmed body count, the more attention the risk deserves. In phase one many risk experts were indifferent at best, and contemptuous at worst, towards contrary relative risk judgments emanating from the public domain. Phase two sought to repair some of the resultant damage...


    • 10 Two Stinking Cows: The Mismanagement of BSE Risk in North America
      (pp. 229-261)

      The discovery of two cases of BSE in the Canadian herd has had devastating impacts on Canadian farm families and the farm economy. Estimated direct and indirect economic costs from the first - single - case of BSE exceed $5 billion, as of November 2003, and those costs continue to rise with each passing month.2 The personal and family costs among farm families are incalculable. How could this have happened, as a result of one or two sick cows? How could this have happened, since no one thinks that Canadians' health is seriously at risk if meat from a few...

    • 11 A Night at the Climate Casino: Canada and the Kyoto Quagmire
      (pp. 262-295)

      Climate change is a devilishly complex business. The average citizen who sought to follow the political wrangling surrounding the federal government’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, over the anguished complaints of some provincial and industry leaders, could be excused if he or she decided that, like the legendary sage Alfred E. Newman, it would be preferable to stick one’s head in the sand rather than try to make sense of climate policy.

      Climate change is complicated, but the reasons why Canada and others should take action on climate change are not. Developing climate change policy is essentially a...

    • 12 Life in the Fast Lane: An Introduction to Genomics Risks
      (pp. 296-340)

      Newspapers around the world picked up a story from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle, February 2004. The story reported on the results of a scientific study in which a virus carrying the gene for a growth hormone called IGF-I was injected into the hind-leg muscles of rats, who were then put through an aggressive physical-training program. The targeted muscles grew between 15-30 per cent in both size and strength, in comparison with those of a control group of untreated animals. The higher levels of IGF-I occurred in the muscle tissue, but not in...

  8. Appendix
    (pp. 341-350)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 351-412)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 413-442)
  11. Index
    (pp. 443-452)