Use the kids — communicating mad cow disease risk in South Korea reports today that web scare stories around mad cow disease risks in South Korea are targeting children. Recent beef trade agreements with the U.S. have reportedly led to the use of text messages, youtube and website discussing the risks directed at children:

A fourth-grader in the second-largest port city of Incheon got two text messages from her friend two days ago. They said, “President Lee Myung-bak sold the Dokdo islets” and “Korea will fall into ruin if we import U.S. beef.” The student’s parents said they were flabbergasted that one of their daughter’s friends sent these groundless accusations now spreading through the Internet.

A picture diary titled “Mad Cow Disease” reportedly written early this month by an elementary school student is in wide circulation on the Web. One reply to the diary written by a teacher commends the child, saying, “How did you know this, from TV? The president seems to be inferior to OO.”

Scores of unsubstantiated scare stories are rapidly spreading even among children through the Internet and mobile phones. The distorted and exaggerated data is corrupting young children who believe them as true and use them as a basis for activism.

Internet homepages are targeting children through major Web portal sites such as Yahoo! Korea`s Ggureogi and Junior Naver.

Certain stories are believed to have been fabricated by adults posing as children to promote the notion that government policies pose a risk to children’s health.

Vicious attacks on the government are going beyond the spread of groundless rumors. Some present action plans and guidelines, urging students and people to skip school or boycott food brands for a certain period.

One such guideline is, “A Conversation between Dad and Daughter,” which urges the girl to ask her father, “I am extremely worried about mad cow disease. Please assure me by showing me logical and scientific evidence showing the safety of U.S. beef.” “Children, if you are too young to join politics, one way to express your opinion is to stir up your parents,” it said, reflecting an ulterior political motive.

Here’s YouTube clip that I just dug up that appears to be a song about the dangers of mad cow and U.S. beef. I don’t know Korean, so I’m not too sure. 

Interesting to me, and not unique move for activism — we encountered many messages and images targeted at children at the biojustice event back in 2002. Doug has posted images depicting the use of children in the raw milk debate.   I’ve personally been part of something like this: I’m not sure where I learned it (maybe one of those fantastic Star Wars public service announcements in the 80s?) but I saw something that led me to perform an anti-smoking monologue and break one of my grandfather’s cigarettes when I was about 7.  Apparently my performance was moving enough to lead to him quit soon after.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.