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date: 14 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The “mad cow” saga provides useful insights into the complexities that surround public communication on food safety issues. The first part of the chapter describes the most important scientific characteristics of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human counterpart, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The second section offers an account of the unfolding of public communication before, during, and after the BSE crisis, including the diverse positions adopted by different countries and the legal reforms enacted to improve risk communication. The final part provides an analysis of the key features of the mad cow crisis: the importance of trust and transparency, the uncertainties that can characterize scientific information, the effects of cognitive bias, and the role of cultural context. All these factors contributed to both the amplifying and downplaying—depending on place and time—of the BSE risk in the public mind.

Keywords: variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, uncertainty, trust, transparency

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