Referring to mad-cow and foot-and-mouth diseases, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told the Associated Press yesterday that many Americans are “hearing ‘animal disease’ and they don’t know the difference.” A few responsible news outlets have gone out of their way to help readers distinguish between the two diseases (see this recent Detroit News article), but these are exceptions to the rule.

If average folks are confused, it’s not happening by itself – anti-food-technology activists are doing their best to blur the two diseases into one large campaign of fear. Canada’s National Post has started to spot this trend, and holds up Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen and journalist Naomi Klein as examples of skillful scaremongers. Activists like these are using these animal illnesses as political leverage, in a bid to prevent responsible consumers from choosing products linked to industrial food production and advances in food technology. Secretary Veneman has said nothing so far about the confusion resulting from their baseless polemic. We hope she sees the bigger picture.