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The BBC's Rob Broomby in Berlin
"The slowly rising number of cases has caused great concern"
 real 28k

Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 22:41 GMT
Austria bans German beef
German butchers shop
Consumers are switching to other types of meat
Austria has banned all imports of German cattle and beef to minimise the risk of contamination after a fifth case of mad cow disease was reported by the German authorities.

Austria, one of the few European countries which has had no reported cases of BSE so far, imposed the ban after the European Union said it could proceed with the measure.

The ban on all imports of German beef and cattle took effect as of 1120 local time. The EU raised no objection

Health Ministry spokesman
Health officials in the southern German state of Bavaria, which borders on Austria, said on Thursday that tests on two animals had proved positive - bringing the total to five since nationwide testing began a few weeks ago.

The move comes after the German Government issued an urgent warning on Wednesday about the possibility of BSE infection in popular varieties of cooked sausage.

Facing mounting criticism, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said his government would examine new measures against mad cow disease to ensure consumer confidence.

'Past complacency'

"The ministries involved are doing their utmost to make sure we have the best possible consumer safety, one that stands up to the best in the world," he told a news conference.

German cows from a BSE infected herd
Five cases of BSE have now been detected in Germany
Mr Schroeder admitted there had been some complacency in the past, but defended his ministers against charges of reacting too slowly.

No cases of the human equivalent of BSE, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), have yet been confirmed in Germany, but two people are suspected to be suffering from it.

Nevertheless, the Health Ministry in Berlin has ordered the withdrawal from sale of a range of products which contain spinal meat from cattle which, if infected, can transmit the disease to humans.

Sausages not safe

Health Minister Andrea Fischer said the government had to eliminate every real risk to the consumer after initially angrily rejecting suggestions from the EU that some sausages contained risky material.

German sausages
Sausage sales have fallen by 20%
BBC correspondent Rob Broomby says nervous consumers have begun to turn up their noses at the ubiquitous German sausage.

The discovery of a handful of BSE cases, compared with hundreds in France and thousands in Britain, has shattered consumer confidence and sales of sausages have been slashed by 20%

Many people are switching to chicken and turkey - but the country's biggest supplier, the PHW Poultry Group, warns prices are rising and shortages are possible.

'Helpless dismay'

Newspapers have devoted pages to the possible dangers lurking under the skin of Germany's myriad varieties of sausage.

We have to assume there can be more BSE cases

Karl-Heinz Funke
German Agriculture Minister
"Helpless dismay at the sausage counter," read a headline on Bild newspaper.

"Nobody knows for certain if German sausage is safe," said the Berliner Zeitung daily paper.

A meat industry spokesman dismissed the affair as a storm in a teacup. But many sausage manufacturers have switched recipes to remove beef products.

German officials had claimed that German cattle were free from BSE - until the first case in a German-born cow was announced on 24 November.

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See also:

04 Dec 00 | Europe
EU agrees anti-BSE action
25 Nov 00 | Europe
Germany demands new BSE controls
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