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Medical Health Risk Assessment

Mad Cows and Mother's Milk, Second Edition

The Perils of Poor Risk Communication

by (author) William Leiss

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2004
Health Risk Assessment
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2004
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Communicating the nature and consequences of environmental and health risks is still one of the most problematic areas of public policy in Western democracies. "Mad Cows and Mother's Milk" outlines the crucial role of risk management in dealing with public controversies and analyses risk communication practice and malpractice to provide a set of lessons for risk managers and communicators. This second edition adds new case studies on mad cow disease in North America, climate change, and genetics technologies. The first of the new case studies brings the story of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in the United Kingdom in the 1980s up-to-date. Mad cow disease is still being discovered in UK herds and cases of mad cow disease have been found in twenty countries across the European continent and as far away as Japan with devastating consequences for the food industry. BSE has now been discovered on the North American continent in two cows born in Canada. The original cause of these two new cases is almost certainly importation of infected cattle, cattle feed, or both from Britain. Canadian government regulators and those in the cattle industry have failed to correctly assess the risks of the disease in the Canadian herd, take the precautionary measures needed to prevent the spread of disease, and communicate risks and precautionary measures to the public. The second new study deals with global warming. Not only is every aspect of this risk debate both contentious and difficult for the public to understand but the potential consequences of the risks extend all the way to global catastrophe for human civilization. A new chapter outlines the many dimensions of risk debate in the context of the need for effective and sustained dialogue by an informed public. The last new case study provides an introduction to genomic science, which is placed in the context of both the health benefits expected from genetic manipulation and some of the risk factors associated with it. One example is gene therapy, which can be used to eliminate inherited genetic diseases (i.e. cystic fibrosis), enhance human traits (i.e. athletic performance), and perhaps double life-spans. Gene technologies are relevant to some of the most fundamental human values. This new chapter suggests that we must think about the range of new risks introduced by these technologies as well as the potential benefits - and that we should do this collective thinking soon, since, given the furious pace of genomics discoveries, the possibilities will be with us sooner than we imagine. All of the case studies emphasize the need for effective communication about risks to allow effective dialogue by informed publics on health and environmental risks.

About the author

William Leiss is a fellow and past president of the Royal Society of Canada, an officer of the Order of Canada, and professor emeritus at the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University. He is the author of several books, including Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk: The Perils of Poor Risk Communication.

William Leiss' profile page

Other titles by William Leiss