Friday, May 06, 2005

Please Define "Outbreak"

An Associated Press story out today reports on Brazil's halting of processed beef exports to the U.S. while they try to improve sanitation and inspection standards. It's a simple, basic little story, until the last line:

"Brazil is the world's largest beef exporter, expanding sales last year after an outbreak of mad-cow disease in the United States."
An outbreak? One cow is considered an outbreak? So if I come down with the flu, there's been an "outbreak" of flu in this country. I never knew one person could be so important.

Also, that cow wasn't even raised here, it had been imported (already infected) from Canada.

Pardon me for climbing atop my soapbox. I know this doesn't mean squat to most of you, but it sticks in my crawl. As a journalist, and as a member of the agricultural community, it infuriates me when news outlets play loose with the facts. The AP story, like so many others, refers to "mad-cow disease". Actually, the condition is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Unless things have changed and I missed the memo, journalistically it's incorrect to refer to something (in the initial reference in a story) by a nickname. And to call what we had here an "outbreak" is just journalistically incorrect. It would be more correct to have said something like:
"Brazil is the world's largest beef exporter, expanding sales last year after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, in a single cow imported from Canada."
Stepping down from soapbox now...