Beef Sales Fall 80% -
Spooked Over Mad Cow
BERLIN (AFP) - German butchers said Wednesday that beef sales have plummeted by nearly 80 percent in some regions due to concerns over mad cow disease, as reports of falsely labeled sausage led to new calls for stricter food safety measures.
"The beef market has almost completely collapsed," said the managing director of the Association of Butchers in the eastern state of Saxony, Gottfried Wagner, adding that Germans were now turning to pork, poultry, game and even ostrich.
Industry groups in the states of Brandenburg and Hesse and the city-state of Berlin reported a decline in sales of up to 80 percent with butchers throughout the country citing heavy losses.
The news came as authorities in three German states reported that random testing of sausage had revealed the presence of beef in packages labeled "beef-free".
The health ministry in the southern state of Bavaria said that test samples from supermarkets in three towns showed that in four out of five cases, beef was included in sausage products marked free of the meat.
Health authorities in the city-state of Berlin said that a suspect sausage had also been identified in the eastern district of Lichtenberg. Further testing in the city showed a package of "beef in its own juice" to include horse meat.
And in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, one in five tests found unreported beef in sausage, the state's agricultural ministry said.
It was not immediately clear whether sausage manufacturers or retailers were to blame for the false labeling and whether it had been mistaken or intentional.
The tests prompted Bavarian health minister Barbara Stamm to call for the products to be pulled from the shelves and for stricter controls in the food industry.
Meanwhile Wednesday, German Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke said the country should introduce mass testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in sheep.
Following the comments, spokespeople from health and agricultural ministries, which have jointly managed the mad cow crisis, said officials would wait for a report expected by BSE experts in mid-January to decide whether to officially call for widespread testing of sheep.
The report will address whether the illness scrapie can mask the presence of mad cow disease in sheep and the potential effectiveness of current BSE-testing methods when used on sheep.
Funke's comments came as Reinhard Kurth, director of Berlin's prestigious Robert Koch institute for infectious diseases called for testing of all slaughtered sheep.
Kurth said that because fields where sheep graze can also be contaminated with BSE, it cannot be assumed that sheep are free of the disease.
Five cases of the brain-wasting illness have been identified in German-born cattle since the first was confirmed on November 24.
Experts say that eating meat from cattle infected with mad cow disease can lead to a fatal human form of the brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).
No case of vCJD has yet been reported in Germany.

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