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Mad Cow Disease Rearing Its Ugly Head Again

Farmers discover new cases in Germany and experts warn that the number will continue to rise in the coming years


Could these cows be next?

The new year has seen its first cases of mad cow disease in Germany.

Farmers in Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Baden Württemberg discovered the devastating disease in their cows late last week and immediately had them slaughtered. The cases brought the number of cows affected by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) to 131 in the past two of years.

"We still have BSE in Germany," researcher Michael Baier of the Robert Koch Insitute in Berlin said in a recent interview with the Tagesspiegel. "And the number will continue to increase for the next four or five years."

Since the disease’s first major outbreak, in England in 1992, 180,000 cases have been discovered in countries across Europe. The disease, which destroys a cow’s central nervous system, doesn’t directly affect human beings.

Scientists discovered that the disease was transferred when cows ate the ground-up carcasses of cows that had died from the disease earlier.

As a result, a number of countries, including Germany at the end of 2000, began outlawing the practice. The strategy has worked. England, which in 1996 implemented among the strictest feeding laws, reported just four new cases.

Some farmers tired of BSE regulations

But there is indication that farmers are beginning to tire of the strict requirements. Some in Germany’s agricultural organizations and the powerful farmer’s lobby have begun to view mad cow disease as a media-hyped issue that doesn’t carry any real danger.

"The motto of everything can stay that way it was, is once again appearing among the organizations," Bärbel Höhn, the agricultural minister of the German state of North- Rhine Westphalia, told the Tagesspiegel.

Farmers seem more interested in trying to maintain the consumer trust it worked hard to win back.

Recent statistics showed that the disease has put an expected dent into meat consumption in the country. Last year the amount of meat consumed per person dropped 900 grams to 90. 5 kilograms. Beef consumption took an especially sharp downturn, with 70 percent less being consumed this year than last year.

Though there are reports that many restaurants have once again begun serving German beef, there is still a long way to go.