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Americans Aware, But Not Mad Over Mad Cow Disease

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. -- The latest mad cow case confirmed by the government did not cause Americans to be more worried about the disease, according to research conducted by the NPD Group here.

On June 24, the U.S. government confirmed a second case of mad cow disease in the U.S. The NPD Group's Food Safety Monitor, which tracks food safety concerns and eating intentions in the U.S., found that 98 percent of adults by now have heard or read something about mad cow disease.

About three out of four adults knew that a second cow was diagnosed with the disease, but only 22 percent of adults were very worried about mad cow disease ... up just 3 percentage points from a month before the recent announcement. That is well below the 11 percentage point increase in consumer concern recorded after the 1st case of mad cow discovered in December of 2003.

Prior to the first infected cow being identified in the US, approximately 15 percent of all adults said they were very concerned about mad cow disease. Right after the 2003 announcement, concern rose to 26 percent. However, despite both of these announcements and their attendant publicity, NPD's Food Safety Monitor found that people's intentions to eat steak didn't change.

"During the last five years we've been tracking food safety and beef consumption patterns it's clear that there are more pricing and seasonal influences on how much beef people eat, than food safety concerns," said Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group.

Beef continues to be one of the top foods Americans eaten at home or at restaurants. About nine out of ten adults eat steak regularly. Even in the wake of a second confirmed case of mad cow disease, NPD's data show 64 percent of adults don't plan on changing their steak eating habits; 12 percent plan to eat less steak in the next 30 days, while 13 percent plan to eat more. These levels have shifted very little over the past five years.

"If there's been any trend, it has been toward more people eating steak during the past 5 years," said Balzer. "This is not to suggest that mad cow disease isn't a serious issue. If we ever see herds of cows with this disease and start having the bovine bonfires seen in Britain a few years ago, then expect a change in consumer behavior, but not with the limited scale seen at this time."

NPD's Food Safety Monitor surveys approximately 500 adults on a bi-monthly basis regarding their food safety concerns, food safety knowledge and future eating intentions for a number of important food categories.
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