Tuesday, December 30, 2008

400,000 sausages

I have recently discovered a podcast that caters to my new found interest in numbers and statistics by the name of “more or less” a BBC run podcast hosted by Tim Hartford, author of “The undercover economist” (great book by the way).

One of the topics discussed in a recent podcast was the widespread hysteria surrounding the finding of high levels of Dioxins in some Irish pork which led to a recall of all Irish pork from the market. On the face of it, I suppose people were justified in being a little bit worried, after all it was Dioxins that were used to poison Ukrainian President Victor Yushenko.

Of course it was not long till the reputable newspapers such as the Sun, Mirror and Mail got out there with the respective headlines: "Toxic Irish pork is swept off shelves","Poison pork panic: Irish pigs were fed on plastic bags" and "Shoppers told: Don't eat toxic Irish pork"... Not so hard to see why people might start panicking.

However behind the scary headlines and uninformed hysteria lay a numerical truth to the situation. An analyst on the podcast commented how in order to reach the levels of Dioxin that poisoned Mr. Yushenko, an individual would have to consumer 50,000kg of tainted pork, or put is sausage terms, that would be a whopping 400,000 sausages.

So with that in mind how many contaminated sausages you would have to eat to achieve Yushenko-esque levels of poisoning? With an Irish life expectancy of 77.7 years:
400,000 divided by 77.7 divided by 365 = 14.1 dioxin contaminated sausages a day for the rest of your life.

Although the above example may be a bit unrealistic, what really would be the effect if one were to eat sausages for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A nutritionist on the podcast had his own opinions on that particular choice of diet: “The first thing I would suggest if you get your cholesterol checked” adding that “Even if you consumed that amount of pork, would there be any risk from the dioxins, in all probability the answer would be no”

So one very public health scare and more than a few damaging headlines later we are left with an Irish Pork industry that has taken a huge hit, and whose future is uncertain. Again this comes down to omission of certain facts by the media in order to make a story more than it is.

1 comment:

jacker said...

It seems different countries, different cultures, we really can decide things in the same understanding of the difference!
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