500 Horse Burgers

It’s interesting to see how the media reacts to a story.  When there’s a risk of infection, are they going to scaremonger or are they going to be sensible?  It seems that in the case of the horse meat story they’ve decided to be sensible.

For those of you not following the British media, it has been revealed that some meals labelled as containing beef actually contain a percentage of horse meat.    Some of that meat may have come from horses injected with phenylbutazone, or bute.  Bute can have harmful side effects if taken by humans, and so is not an approved drug for humans.

The media could have run with a story along the lines of  “Deadly Horse Burgers Infect our Children”, but instead they went for the far less reactionary “You’d have to eat 500 horse burgers to get a significant dose of bute.”

This is one way to quantify risk in way that people can easily understand.  I remember back in the 1980s when AIDS awareness was first being raised, it was asked if you could catch aids from saliva – could you catch AIDS from kissing?  Popular wisdom back then had it that you would have to drink a bucket of saliva in order to catch AIDS.

Now, I don’t know whether its true that you can be made ill from 500 horse burgers or a bucket of spit, I’m more interested in the way the risk is presented.

When the MMR scare was at its height a question frequently asked by the media was “Can you guarantee that the MMR jab is 100% safe?”  The answer, as they must have known, was no.  Nothing is 100% safe. So why ask the question?  Why not say that you would need 500 injections or a bucket full of the stuff to quantify the risk?

I can only suppose because they wanted to scare people.  This may well have been because they genuinely believed that MMR was dangerous and that people should be scared.  Or maybe that’s just a load of horse burgers.