Going Overboard with Mad Cow Scare

      May 02, 2008 09:49


      "PD Diary," an in-depth current affairs program on MBC, reported that 94 percent of Koreans have genes that make them more susceptible than Americans or Britons to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which is the human variant of mad cow disease. The report claimed that this physical trait makes Koreans two to three times more likely than Americans or Britons to contract the disease. The program even quoted an official from a U.S. consumers' group saying that people eating American beef were like lab rats, putting themselves at risk. After the program aired, photographs parodying the government's opening of Korea to American beef were posted on the Internet, with titles like "crazy cow" or "the government's policy of genocide has begun." Comments posted on the Internet by a television actress, saying it would be better to drink acid than eat American beef, were also widely viewed.

      The "PD Diary" report demonstrates the impact on society that television can have if it pushes its own agenda to sway public opinion. Thus we have the term "hot media," illustrating how TV can sear the minds and emotions of viewers like a hot iron. There is a fine line that separates the tremendous power of television and the potentially destructive use of the medium.

      Many elements of the American beef horror stories aired on "PD Diary" were exaggerated. Some 100 million cattle are bred in the U.S., but so far only three have been discovered to have been infected with mad cow disease, and one of those had been imported from Canada. The other two were born before 1997, when the U.S. government banned cattle feed containing meat and bones, found to be the source of mad cow disease. The rate of mad cow disease among U.S. cattle is far lower than in Japan, where around 20 out of a million cattle were discovered to have been infected.

      The same goes for the report's claim that the risk of mad cow disease has grown with the Korean government's lifting of a previous ban on U.S. beef from cattle older than 30 months. Out of all the cattle slaughtered in the U.S., 97 percent are younger than 20 months. That makes its pretty much pointless to argue over whether the beef comes from cattle 30 months old or younger. Also, over 90 percent of American beef is consumed in the U.S. Some 300 million-plus Americans and 2.5 million Korean-Americans and Koreans studying there are among who consume it.

      Only 207 people in the world have been infected with CJD. Most were in Britain, which has reported 166 cases. Many of the infected cases in other countries had lived in Britain at one time or another, including the three American CJD victims. The "PD Diary" reported on the first suspected local case of CJD in America, but that case has yet to be officially confirmed.

      The reason such nonsense speculation that all American beef is infected with mad cow disease is not fading away is because forces opposed to the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement have cleverly tied the beef scare with efforts to spread anti-American sentiment. They are pretending to worry about mad cow disease, while trying to boycott American beef. Koreans consume the most expensive beef in the world. The price of Korean beef is a shock for low-income families. It's time we see some real consumer rights activists who are truly concerned about the rights of consumers.
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