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Farmer writes: Hard to find a voice of reason in clamour over suspect BSE case
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Farmer writes: Hard to find a voice of reason in clamour over suspect BSE case

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When Ciarán Lenehan first heard the news about BSE, his first reaction was to search Twitter for voices of reason amidst the sensationalist clamour.
When Ciarán Lenehan first heard the news about BSE, his first reaction was to search Twitter for voices of reason amidst the sensationalist clamour.

I’m standing in the corner of a Kepak chill, pondering the bleak outlook surrounding my very-immediate future.

The white-walled fridge-room is empty, save for a handful of researchers, a butcher and 10 boxes of beef. The whirring fans have only just shut down; it’s shudderingly cold.

Earlier that week we’d slaughtered 30 experimental bulls. Now the task was to dissect their corresponding cube rolls; a joint comprising the first five ribs on the hind-quarter. Its ratios of lean, bone and fat give an accurate representation of total carcass composition.

We struggle through it and retire to the canteen for sustenance. Ah, sweet heat. I try in vain to crack a boiled egg with yet-to-defrost fingers. My phone squeals, a message pops up and the numbness quickly dissipates. BSE is back.

The chatter begins. Never was there a more apt setting to hear such news. Around us, ringtone frequency increases notably; farmers and agents with questions and answers.

I jump to Twitter – an excellent barometer for both the seriousness of a story and the public’s opinion. It isn’t good. Sensationalist headlines litter the tweet-o-sphere.

The terms “suspect” and “positive” intertwine dangerously. People are “kissing goodbye” to beef prices and international trade agreements in less than 140 characters.

Like many, I know next-to-nothing on the topic. Undertaking a PhD has taught me the importance of proper evaluation. No, sit tight keep quiet and find out the facts.

There’s still nothing new on Twitter. I wade through the hundreds of negative reactions for truths, but it’s no good.

I’m drowning in a pool of ill-informed speculation and gossip. It’s reached the UK now. I’m reminded of the local power-walking forty-somethings, looking over the fence into a naughty neighbour’s.

“You’ll never guess what he’s gone and done now...”

Finally, a factual article from an informed source surfaces on the Irish Farmers Journal's site. As suspected, there had been excess hot air blown into the story initially. Clickbait is a valuable currency, and it rained from the sky with the news of BSE. The matter could have, and should have been handled better in terms of informing people. The initial hours of damning headlines will not have helped Ireland’s invaluable reputation. Though flames were quickly fanned, what do they say about first impressions?

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