Study: Americans' Confidence in Beef 'Stirred but Not Shaken'

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Despite the recent discovery of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Washington state, consumers who gave up beef temporarily may be grilling steaks again this summer, according to results of a new study.

While the confirmation of a single BSE-positive cow temporarily curtailed the $3 billion U.S. beef export market, Americans remain "relatively unperturbed," according to a recent study conducted by Rutgers University's Food Policy Institute, which found most Americans retaining their confidence in the nation's beef supply.

Most respondents said their confidence in the beef supply has not changed, and some said the USDA's prompt and efficient treatment of the case has actually led to an increase in confidence, according to the study.

"This isolated BSE case is not enough to dramatically disturb domestic confidence in the beef supply," said William Hallman, lead author at Rutgers University's Cook College. "Unlike consumers in many countries, Americans have a history of trust in their food regulators and have a strong belief that the U.S. food supply is safe."

The results were based on a Food Policy Institute survey of 1,001 U.S. adults conducted from Jan. 15 to 18, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percent. From those respondents who had heard of the BSE case, here are some top-line results:

- Nearly 68 percent said their confidence in the beef supply remains unchanged.

- 8 percent said their confidence had actually increased.

- About 22 percent said their confidence has decreased, although not by much.

- 7 percent said their confidence had decreased "a great deal."

- 15 percent said their confidence had fallen "some" or "a little."

About 14 percent of respondents said they were eating less beef, and 5 percent said they had eliminated beef from their diets altogether. However, the Rutgers researchers said the study suggests this reduction is likely to be temporary for most. In fact, only about 1 percent of Americans said they have given up beef for good. Nearly 40 percent of those who have stopped eating beef said they would resume eating it within six months, assuming no other cases of BSE are discovered.
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