It's not surprising that consumers are confused about foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad-cow" disease. They've been hearing about the two different diseases in the popular press for some time, and even reporters covering the story sometimes confuse the two. This confusion could impact markets in the United States unless we get the message out that FMD and BSE are not the same and keep both diseases out.

A recent survey by the public relation's firm Porter Novelli, found that 19 percent of consumers surveyed thought that BSE and FMD were the same. Twenty-seven percent incorrectly thought there was a direct link between the two, and 46 percent incorrectly thought that cows with FMD could infect humans. Did those misconceptions change buying patterns? According to the survey, 14 percent had already changed food purchasing or eating habits based on reports of BSE and FMD.

What's even more alarming is what those surveyed would do if BSE or FMD were found in this country. Seventy-one percent said they would eliminate or reduce ground beef from their diet if FMD were found in U.S. livestock. If BSE were found here, 80 percent said they would eliminate or reduce ground beef from their diet.

However, recent research by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association shows that 85 percent of consumers remain confident in the safety of U.S. beef. That is statistically unchanged from the 87 percent confidence level obtained in research from February of this year – the highest level of consumer confidence since NCBA began capturing the data. NCBA's research also found that continued consumer media exposure to BSE and FMD created confusion among consumers about the safety of the products they're eating. The research shows that 93 percent of consumers have heard something recently about BSE, and 81 percent had heard something recently about FMD.

In an effort to combat the confusion, NCBA is expanding efforts to get the right information to the public. They plan to work with medical, nutritional and food industry groups to get the message out about the differences in the diseases and what is being done to protect U.S. herds.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a severe, highly communicable viral disease of cattle, swine, sheep, goats, deer and other cloven-hooved ruminants. The disease is characterized by fever and blister-like lesions followed by erosions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the hooves. It causes severe losses in the production of meat and milk. The United States has been free of FMD since 1929.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of cattle. BSE is found in the United Kingdom and other European countries. No cases have been found in the United States.