Likewise, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times began with the statement, “Mad cow disease has the power to terrify, but at this point, U.S. consumers have far more to fear from other sources of food poisoning.” It added, though, that “there’s still reason for concern about this country’s efforts to prevent mad cow.”

The San Jose Mercury News’s suggestion that the US “adopt additional protections against mad cow disease” was more forceful and its board pointed out that the UK and Japan have higher inspection standards. (Similarly, The Washington Post had a piece about the lack of mandatory livestock tracking in the US, which exists in other countries.)

Even primetime network news produced fairly levelheaded coverage of the BSE discovery, though ABC did play up the scare factor a bit. Diane Sawyer waited until the very end of the report to ask her correspondent, almost as an afterthought, whether there were any real safety concerns. CBS and Fox did much better, though, expressing concern while warding off needless worry.

The latest news is that the USDA tracked down one of the sick cow’s offspring, euthanized it, and sent a tissue sample for testing, which came back negative for BSE. The dairy that it came from and one other are under quarantine.

The media have exaggerated many public-health scares, to be sure, but not this time.

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

 

More in The Observatory

Brain waves

Read More »

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.