WHAT TO FEAR. Based on the news reporting, Americans should be afraid of terrorists, pederasts, sharks, and, today, tuberculosis. On some other days tuberculosis would be replaced by, say, the avian flu. What all those sources of danger have in common is their current low likelihood. The fear that is elicited by the excess focus and reporting is out of proportion to the actual risks we face. It also serves to distort our estimates of those risks, and might lead to bad decisions. For instance, if the fear of pederasts causes parents to keep their children in the house, those children are then more likely to grow up obese, not having the freedom to run and play. Or the fear of terrorists could make a person believe that it is important to attack Iraq, a country which didn't have anything to do with the events of 9/11.

The other side of this coin are the risks which don't get much media attention. Mad cow disease is currently not on the list of what to fear. Perhaps that is why it is not news that the Bush administration is fighting to keep a meatpacker from testing all its meat for this disease:

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. A beef producer in the western state of Kansas, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone should test its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive tests on their larger herds as well.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.

What an astonishing response from an administration that believes in free markets, by the way. It's as if a firm which wants to offer an extended warranty on its products is denied that chance because the other firms would suffer. Note how there is nothing in that quote about the consumers of meat possibly suffering from the very limited testing that the Department of Agriculture carries out. The concern is for the industry.

-- J. Goodrich

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