Consumer confidence that U.S. beef is safe from 'mad cow disease' (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, BSE) rose to a record high 89% in December, while consumer awareness of BSE in the United States has dropped over the last six months, according to recent checkoff-funded research on behalf of the Cattlemen's Beef Board.

A previous survey found that in July 2001 nearly nine of 10 respondents had heard something about 'mad cow disease' in the previous month. In December, that figure had dropped to 70%--but was still higher than the 58% awareness measured in December 2000.

Despite a higher awareness of BSE than a year ago, the number of respondents who said they were confident that U.S. beef is safe rose from 82% in December 2000 to the current level of 89%.

"The beef industry and the U.S. government have been working since the late 1980s to ensure the BSE never becomes a problem in this country," said Rick McCarty, NCBA executive director of issues management who oversees the BSE tracking survey program. "The triple firewalls of import bans, active surveillance and the ban on feeding ruminant-derived protein supplements to ruminants have been effective in preventing BSE problems in the U.S. A comprehensive, three-year risk analysis study by Harvard University recently confirmed the effectiveness of our prevention and risk management programs."

McCarty also pointed out that the beef industry has maintained an aggressive risk communications program about BSE since 1996. "We've been conducting these attitude tracking surveys since the spring of 1996," he said, "and consumer confidence in the safety of U.S. beef has always remained high. This high confidence has been supported by the industry's BSE risk communications efforts. This past year, consumers heard an awful lot in the media about 'mad cow disease'," he added, "but much of what they heard were our messages about the triple firewalls and the fact that we don't have this disease in the U.S."

The independent study was conducted by the research firm IPSOS-Reid U.S. Public Affairs and coordinated for the Cattlemen's Beef Board by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). The study used a national random sample of U.S. adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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