My sister-in-law is considering converting her family to a vegetarian diet. Her reason? The fear of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and its link to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which infects humans. Her reaction is understandable – she lives in Ireland and is bombarded by news about “Mad Cow Disease” and its presence in the European beef industry. As a mother and wife, she wants to protect her family no matter what and feels eating beef poses too large a risk. She’s even taking it a step further by cutting out all forms of animal protein, as she rationalizes, “just to be safe.”

And what can I say to her? I live in the United States, which currently is free from BSE. I’ve conducted research for articles on BSE and even forwarded that information on to her. But so much remains unknown about BSE and its link to variant CJD that her perception is that the risk is too great.

Could that same perceived risk create a public relations nightmare here? As more news reports focus on BSE and whether or not it could happen in North America, how many moms out there will take beef out of their diets for fear of BSE showing up here? There’s no answer to that now, and the press coverage of BSE already has begun to slow down. So far the European BSE problem has not impacted beef demand here. But are we prepared to answer the questions and reassure the public that U.S. beef is safe?

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has responded to requests from media and beef producers about how NCBA and state cattle associations are prepared to address the issue. A backgrounder was developed for producers (available as PDF file) that covers the BSE issue and the industry's steps in helping assure that BSE does not become a problem in this country. You can find this document at www.beef.org/newsroom/bse/index.htm.

You can also find out more about BSE by going to the industry's Web site for the issue www.bseinfo.org.

Become informed so that when someone comes to you with questions about BSE, you can answer their questions and reassure them that our beef is safe.