Jul 062004
Authors: Sara Crocker

Despite the positive case of mad cow disease in Washington last

December, only 22 percent of a surveyed population changed its

buying habits, according to a CSU study.

CSU Cooperative Extension conducted the study on mad cow

disease, also called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, to find out

if the scare impacted consumer purchasing.

“It showed a lot of consumer confidence,” said Dawn Thilmany, a

Cooperative Extension economist who helped conduct the study.

The study indicated that even during the scare in Washington,

consumer confidence remained high. According to www.beef.org,

confidence increased one point – 88 to 89 percent – from September

2003 to January 2004.

But those who did change their buying habits went about it in

different ways. Half of these consumers bought less beef. Others

bought different cuts of meat, a different brand or purchased from

a different location. Consumers also bought beef based on a farm’s

production practices.

“We saw a lot of people switching to buy local or organic,”

Thilmany said.

She said it may be hard to see a direct correlation between mad

cow and an increase in organic and natural beef sales because this

is an area that is gaining more ground in the beef industry than in

the past.

Thilmany said she has changed her buying habits and instead buys

from local producers. But her change prompted by the December


“I was doing it mostly to support local agriculture,” Thilmany


She said there are consumers who are concerned with where their

meat comes from and how it is raised. Thilmany estimated about 25

percent of customers do want to know these details about their beef


Despite high consumer confidence, the study also indicated that

people consider the testing of cattle for mad cow an extremely

important attribute when purchasing beef. The second most important

was price.

Because of the new precautions in place to protect against mad

cow disease, Thilmany does not think consumers should be wary of


“I think consumers are doing the right things,” she said. “I

think they should make purchases based on how concerned they


But students like Roger Bodah aren’t worried by the lone

incident of BSE.

“I don’t think I’d ever stop eating meat,” said the junior

construction management major. “I don’t like vegetables.”

Senior microbiology major Amber West echoed Bodah and was not

concerned about mad cow in Colorado.

“I know what it is but I’m really not worried about it here,”

West said. “It seemed pretty isolated in Washington.”

Both West and Thilmany said they thought it would take a number

of cases, particularly in a concentrated area, to erode consumer

confidence and change people’s eating habits.

“Hopefully that’s never gonna happen,” Thilmany said. “Here I

think we do catch these isolated cases.”

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