German Mad Cow Scare
Leads to Halt In Burger Sales

By Ned Stafford

FRANKFURT, Germany (Reuters Health) - The latest "mad cow disease" scare here got a boost over the weekend after reports that the McDonald's fast food restaurant chain in Germany had pulled beef from circulation.
Matthias Baumgarten, spokesman for McDonald's Germany, told Reuters Health that the company pulled the beef after learning that the shipment had not been properly tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.
The beef shipment had been tested in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg at a private laboratory, which later was found to have conducted tests improperly. Baumgarten said that McDonald's pulled the beef from its distribution system immediately upon learning it had been tested by the suspect laboratory.
None of the beef had been sold to customers. But until company officials had determined that the suspect beef was still contained safely in storage, at least a dozen of McDonald's 1,200 restaurants in Germany on Friday quit selling Big Macs and other hamburger products for several hours.
Eating meat contaminated with BSE is believed to cause a human form of the brain wasting illness, which is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
The latest mad cow scare in Germany started in January when the German Agriculture Ministry acknowledged some 40,000 beef carcasses may have been improperly tested by an unauthorised laboratory in Bavaria. Early in February BSE testing started to turn into a scandal when news broke that a private lab in Rhineland-Palatinate also was not conducting tests properly.
That was followed a few days later by news of the Baden-Wurttemberg lab.
In the German federal system, states are responsible for carrying out the BSE tests. But the Federal Agriculture Ministry last week issued strict guidelines on testing procedures.
Richard Hilmer, head of polling firm Infratest dimap, told Reuters Health that an NFO-Infratest poll taken last week before the McDonald's news broke indicated that 20% of Germans were either worried or very worried about the chances of eating BSE-tainted beef. The poll, taken for the German news magazine Der Spiegel, indicated that 36% of German were "not so worried" about BSE-tainted beef and 42% were not worried at all.
Hilmer said that concern in Germany about BSE had almost disappeared in January compared with early 2001. At that time, a poll that asked people what they considered the two biggest problems facing the German government found that 33% of Germans considered BSE a major problem, second only to unemployment.
In January of this year, before the improper BSE-testing was known, less than 1% of those polled mentioned BSE, he said.
While a fourth person in France last week is believed to have died of vCJD, Hilmer said that Germany has not yet had a human case. He believes this is one reason for the relatively low levels of concern in Germany.
"But if we get a human case in Germany, the situation will change quite severely," he said.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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