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Mad Cow and German Ministers
Part 1: BSE crisis covered Germany in November 2000, and kept the Germans alert during December

BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), or mad-cow disease, started spreading in Bavaria. A suspicion of the disease came to light in a cow from a family farm in the Upper Bavarian municipality of Weilheim-Schongau. The six-and-a-half-year-old animal was killed on November 2, 2000 due to a "disorder of the central nervous system". After two examinations, the suspicion of mad-cow disease confirmed. The small farm with fifty heads of cattle was quarantined. The cause of the infection is not known.


Meanwhile, the Bavarian Farmers' Association is threatening to sue the animal feed manufacturers. The Association asks for a careful examination of every supplier who sold feed to the farms at any point during the entire life of the infected animals. If grounds for suspicion are found, legal action will follow. The federal government, in the face of this crisis, plans to devote more resources to consumer protection. The president of the German Farmers' Association, Mr. Sonleitner, expects a considerable increase of costs and prices for  German farmers and consumers as a result of the mad cow disease crisis. Mr. Sonleitner said to the Chemnitzer Freie Presse, he expects that numerous farmers might have to give up their farms because of the cost explosion. The removal of animal corpses and slaughter wastes alone will cause additional costs of up to 1.7 billion DEM for the farmers. 

Starting from December 1, 2000, all slaughtered beef cattle older than 30 months were to be tested for BSE. Untested beef could not be sold. Later in December, CDU-chief Angela Merkel has demanded a freeze on the import of British lamb. In an interview Ms. Merkel said the import freeze was necessary because of the well-known occurrence of scrapy, a lamb disease. The cause for the disease are the same protein molecules that are considered the trigger for mad cow disease BSE. However, scrapy is not transferable to the human system, but scientists worry that behind some scrapy cases in sheep an unknown BSE-type disease is lurking. BSE is suspected to trigger a new type of Kreutzfeld-Jakob disease in humans. Farmers were prohibited to give their cattle meat and bone-meal feeds. Ever since the first case of BSE was discovered in Schleswig Holstein on November 24, 2000, all this hectic haste began. A question arises: why couldn't it be started earlier? The general opinion is that the politicians who for too long closed their eyes to the health risks associated with rearing animals for human consumption are to blame. 

The situation swayed from panic to apathy, the public debate went from one extreme to another. Neither was correct to follow. According to what was known, there was no threat of an epidemic of the human form of BSE. On the other hand, five cases of BSE in humans were discovered and confirmed within one month! And it happened just before Christmas, when holiday shopping was in full swing, and sausage not being the last on the list. Two top persons to handle the BSE crisis -- Health Minister Andrea Fischer and Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke -- discredited themselves with not being able to cope with the situation in time and prevent the growing panic among the population of the country where sausage is one of the most favorite products. As a result of the crisis, Belgium, Austria and Netherlands have ordered German beef products off the shelves of their stores. 

Andrea Fischer declared sausage safe on December 22, 2000. Eight hours later news of the danger of eating meat obtained from the spines of cattle broke, and Fischer ordered sausage manufacturers to withdraw their products from the markets. As Tagesspiel announced, "The health minister would make things easier for herself if she started using the term epidemic, as BSE seems to be taking on such proportions. It would allow Fischer to finally act preventatively and get one step ahead rather than remaining one behind."

Karl-Heinz Funke was asked to resign before Christmas but he refused. He admitted some mistakes however, like not knowing that control over feedstuff in some states was loose. More to that: zoology Professor Mr. Lorenzen from the University of Kiel told the North German Radio that in 1994 there were clear signs that five BSE-infected cows near Hanover were infected in Germany and not in the country of their origin. At that time, Lower Saxony Agriculture Minister Funke did not seriously follow up these reports. At the time of BSE crisis-2000, Funke was Federal Minister of Agriculture. Read on for more details.

Next page > Chronology of BSE Crisis (1988!-2001) > Page 1, 2, 3

Related links:

• Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
• Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
• Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
• Health Care in Germany
• Mad Cow Disease



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