Mad Cow Panic Spreads to Germany

Nov. 27, 2000 -- German consumers are running scared after the nation’s first two cases of mad cow disease were confirmed this weekend.

European Health Commissioner David Byrne said Germany had been “complacent” in thinking it was immune from the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rejected accusations Germany had ignored the threat of mad cow disease and insisted further action at the European Union level was needed over the scare.

One of the infected cows came from the northern region of Schleswig-Holstein. The entire, 160-strong herd has been slaughtered, and all carcasses will be tested.

The second infected cow was exported from the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt to Portugal.

The problem appears to be homegrown. There is no trace in this herd of an ancestry of herds from countries known to be affected by the disease — Britain, Ireland, France, Ireland, Portugal or Switzerland.

No Mad Cows Here

German politicians have long claimed the country was BSE-free, citing superior German standards for the treatment of animal feed. But Byrne said German confidence that its farming sector was free of the disease had always been misplaced.

“Germany long had the view there could be no cases of BSE. That was wrong and I wasn’t surprised,” he said.

Separately, traces of meat and bone meal were found in feed intended for cattle at a north German feed company. That suggested there has been a breach of a 1994 European Union ban on feeding ruminants — cud-chewing animals, like cows — bone meal and meat byproducts, which are thought to have caused the disease.

Earlier, Schroeder said government measures such as a blanket ban on the import, export and use of animal feeds containing meat and bonemeal agreed at the weekend would come into effect on Wednesday.

But Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke said today the government was delaying the introduction of a blanket ban on the production and import of bone meal as there was “insufficient legal basis” for the decree needed to institute the measure.

Funke told a news briefing today that Parliament would now be called to vote on a law change on Friday. He said he expected a broad majority in favor of imposing a blanket ban but did not say when it would go into effect.

Farmers were enraged by the feed ban, saying they cannot possibly find alternative feed in time, and that their cattle will starve.

Bovine Panic

A crisis team is ordering the compulsory testing of all cattle over 30 months old as from Jan. 1. But the Green Party is telling already frightened consumers that this is too little, too late.

Health Minister Andrea Fischer, a Green party member, is blaming the powerful agricultural lobby for dragging its heels in accepting measures that could have prevented this crisis. “They keep telling us that our meat is safe and that things are not so bad,” she said. “We have been kidding ourselves.”

She also warned consumers that the new measures meant they would have to pay more for beef in future.

There have so far been no German cases of Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, the human variant of BSE. But one German paper reported that a man who worked in a bone-meal factory has been hospitalized. Others are investigating all known cases of Creutzfeld-Jacob in the past decade.

Amid growing popular outrage over the issue, the government has not yet given clear advice on whether it is safe to eat beef.

In France, the number of cows found with the brain-wasting disease has soared this year to more than 90, compared to 31 last year. The government has argued that more rigorous testing accounts for the increase.

French butchers have been giving away free beef in an effort to help ease the fear. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.