Revenge of the Bovines

You’ll know it’s time to sell your beef-industry stock when the phrase “mad as a cow” enters common parlance. We’re not there yet, and the U.S. lags well behind Europe in concern over mad-cow disease. Nonetheless, an ABC/Washington Post poll (as summarized on the Polling Report Web site) detects signs that beefophobia is starting to catch on here. Ninety-one percent of Americans said they’ve heard of mad-cow disease. Among this group, 18 percent are “very concerned” about it “becoming a problem” here, and 26 percent are “somewhat concerned.” On the other hand, 21 percent declared themselves “not at all concerned.” Even in the absence of mad cows, dietary worries impinge on consumers’ enthusiasm for the meat—though the flesh may not have kept pace with the spirit. As the chart indicates, those who claim to be eating less beef outnumber those saying they eat more by nearly six to one. If true, that would presumably show up as a steep drop in the nation’s beef consumption. Looking at Department of Agriculture statistics for a reality check, we find just modest slippage in beef production. Perhaps people look at their virtuous intention to eat less red meat and imagine they’ve already taken such action. Brad Wilson/Tony Stone