In recognition of the month when America celebrates its freedom, we are devoting the first two weeks of July to a review of the ongoing battle for consumer freedom — the threats and the promise. Today, a review of recent “mad cow” and “mad deer” issues.
Fears about “mad deer” disease hit The Wall Street Journal in late May, the result of a propaganda campaign, not serious science. Calling the chronic wasting disease that has impacted some deer “frighteningly similar to mad-cow disease,” the Journal played into the hands of the anti-technology, anti-meat, and pro-organic food movements. Hard-core activists like John Stauber are now quoted alongside serious researchers with such frequency that average Americans can scarcely tell the difference.
The public deserves to be advised that not all sources are equally believable. With no evidence, Stauber has claimed since 1997 that mad cow is already present in U.S. cattle. Likewise, the Center for Food Safety is made up of organic food activists (and for-profit marketers) who want to scare consumers out of buying beef. Their overall strategy, now several years old, anticipates that Americans will make the psychological leap from “mad deer” to “mad cow” — and that they will flock to pricier organic alternatives.
The head of the Organic Consumers Association, who bluntly claims mad cow is already present in the U.S., says he hopes a “crisis of confidence may start to develop in the United States” over mad cow fears, leading to a “new era of sustainable living and organic agriculture.” And D’Arcy Kemnitz, formerly of PETA, has worked with the mad cow scare campaign to try to trick people out of eating meat.
But there is no mad cow disease in this country. Activists have exploited the tragic deaths of two young men from sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), an incurable brain-wasting disorder that strikes about one person in a million. CJD has similarities to mad cow, but is not the same thing. But because both men were hunters and relatively young CJD victims, the media bought the unsubstantiated story that infected deer was responsible for their deaths. The governmental Centers for Disease Control concluded that the deaths were not mad deer-related.
In April, Nobel Prize winner Stanley Prusiner released a study asserting that “those who eat the meat of deer infected with chronic wasting disease are in no danger.” While a reasonable person would guess this would silence Stauber and company, it has not. Instead, they are keeping up their PR disinformation campaign, and rather cynically hoping disease will come.
What’s Stauber’s motive? If he can make people think “mad deer” is “the tip of the iceberg,” it’s very good for his own PR. But in the words of Dr. George Gray, director of the food safety and agriculture department at Harvard University: “The risk from what will certainly be a media-fed frenzy of emotional public reaction, should one case appear, is potentially worse than the risk of the disease itself.”