Crisis Management for Mad Cow

USDA demonstrates solid crisis management

United States Government agencies are finally embracing crisis management, with organizations from the military to FEMA and more engaging stakeholders in honest and open communication. Today’s story comes from the USDA, whose deft handling of the most recent incident of BSE (aka Mad Cow Disease) detection in US cattle resulted in a crisis management success. Here’s a summary of how things went down, from James Marsden’s blog:

On April 24, the department announced that a fourth US cow had tested positive for BSE. The positive was detected during the routine surveillance program that is administered by USDA, APHIS (Animal Plant and Health Service).

Almost immediately, news reports explained that meat from the infected animal never entered the food chain and that the cow manifested an atypical type of BSE, unrelated to feeding practices. Within an hour of the first report, the public was assured that US beef and dairy products are safe and that the finding of the BSE positive did not pose a risk to consumers.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a teleconference with reporters said, “We’re very confident that we’ve got the right inspection regime and process in place. As this particular circumstance pointed out, the system worked.”

I noticed that in a television interview, Secretary Vilsack referred to “Mad Cow Disease.” I liked the way he used the terminology that is familiar to consumers – it showed that he wasn’t trying to dance around the issue.

The USDA was obviously prepared for this one, getting information to key media figures very quickly, informing the public how its screening systems kept them safe, and assuring consumers that it was perfectly safe to head out and purchase that hamburger or steak they may have been considering for dinner.

Although it may have had his earlier counterparts rolling in their graves, Tom Vilsack’s refusal to use technical jargon, instead keeping his terminology in the realm of normal human understanding, was another touch that helped the USDA navigate this crisis management situation without a hitch. A complete reversal from how BSE was handled by both government and industry sources the last time around. Kudos!

The BCM Blogging Team

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