The human health risk from BSE is probably far lower than the risk of choking on a toothbrush,” according to a new review by leading economists of the U.S. response to BSE, published in Choices, a publication of the American Agricultural Economics Association.

The authors continued: “Thus to suggest, as did Judge Richard Cebull in granting the injunction blocking imports of Canadian cattle, that BSE poses a ‘genuine risk of death for U.S. customers’ is a complete distortion of the concept of what is really risky.”

The article, by John Fox, James Mintert, Ted Schroeder, Brian Coffey and Luc Valentin of the Department of Agriculture Economics at Kansas State University, notes that border closure in response to a very low BSE incidence in an exporting country is not endorsed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), particularly when control measures are in place.

Further, the writers detail that while there is a short-term benefit to keeping the border closed for cattle producers, there is a major, long-term downside. “Although R-CALF may indeed be concerned about the human health risk from Canadian cattle (though some might doubt it), it is clear that U.S. cattle producers, particularly those in the northwestern U.S., would lose from import competition in the short run,” the authors say. “However, in the long run, if adequate cattle supplies are not available locally to keep U.S. packing plants in the region open, producers in the Northwest will lose local cattle markets.”

The writers also urge a rational and fact-based view of the almost non-existent public health risk that BSE poses in North America.

“By refusing to implement drastic measures in response to a virtually non-existent threat, policy makers may foster a more rational perception of the risk associated with the disease” the authors concluded. “Not permitting voluntary testing of young animals, because it provides no useful information for consumers, could be viewed as part of that strategy. The wider impact of such a measured response may be one of enhancing the overall stability of food demand and making it less responsive to food scares that occur from time to time.”

To read the paper, go to and click on The Response to BSE in the United States.