the detection of mad cow creates havoc in the U.S., alarm bells
are ringing in Germany after it emerged this week that hundreds
of cattle in several states had been slaughtered without BSE testing.
Several German states admitted this week that authorities had
failed to conduct BSE tests on cattle before they were slaughtered
and said unchecked beef could have well landed on the market
Officials estimate that the total number of untested cattle Germany-wide
runs into the hundreds.
The revelation has sparked outrage and disbelief in Berlin. Deputy
minister for Consumer Protection, Alexander Méller, said "criminal
energy" was at play and said cattle were apparently slaughtered
off the books in several cases without any concern for meat hygiene. "Obviously
there was an attempt to save money, by avoiding conducting tests
on cattle over 24 months," Méller said in a radio interview.
In Germany, all cattle over 24 months have to be tested for the
deadly brain wasting disease BSE or bovine spongiform encephalopathy,
as opposed to the 30 months stipulated by the EU. The more stringent
regulation was imposed by Germany in the wake of the first case
of mad cow detected three years ago. Scientists believe cattle
under 30 months old are least likely to carry mad cow disease.
The illness is believed to cause a form of Creutzfeld Jakob Disease
in humans who consume BSE-infected beef products. At least 137
people, mostly in Britain, are reported to have died of the disease,
either through eating beef or having received blood or tissue transplants
from infected patients.
Discrepancies in central BSE database
Méller however downplayed fears that Germany was dealing with
another BSE outbreak. He said that from a statistical point of
view, the possibility that animals infected with the disease were
among the untested cattle is "very slim." At the same time the
minister stressed that the important thing was implementing the
basic law governing BSE, namely, "every animal has to be thoroughly
Authorities stumbled upon the current failures in the testing
system by detecting discrepancies between the number of slaughtered
and tested cattle in a central database, where all states are supposed
to feed in BSE test data since 2003.
The German Agricultural Ministry said at least 0.6 percent or
17,000 of three million beef cattle that were meant to be tested
in 2003 were affected.
However, authorities have pointed out that the inconsistencies
in the data don't necessarily mean that BSE testing wasn't carried
out in thousands of cattle. In some cases, administrative errors
such as data entered too late or wrong addresses of farmers was
responsible for the miscalculation.
Possible consumer backlash
Though the fallout from the disaster remains unclear, experts
aren't ruling out a dip in consumer confidence that had been painfully
restored after the BSE crisis of 2000.
Matthias Wolfschmidt from consumer group Foodwatch told DW-WORLD
that it was too early to speculate on how high the risk for consumers
could be. "We don't have any information on animals that have tested
positive for BSE," he said.
At the same time Wolfschmidt pointed out that there is an emotional
and psychological dimension to the issue. "There was a huge fall
in beef eaters when the first BSE case came to light in Nov. 2000.
And though it has picked up again, it's not the same as it used
to be before the arrival of BSE, he said. "Consumers do tend to
Statistics show that beef consumption in Germany has normalized
to 8.4 kilograms per person in 2003 as opposed to 6.8 kilograms
in 2001. That rate is still behind the 9.5 to 10.5 kg average per
person prior to the BSE crisis. Germany has 287 officially
confirmed cases of BSE to date, 49 of which were discovered in