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Germany learns lessons about BSE from Switzerland

Germany's agriculture minister, Renate Küsast, met with the head of the federal department of economic affairs, Pascal Couchepin

(Keystone)

The newly appointed German agriculture minister, Renate Künast, is visiting Switzerland to learn more about how the country is tackling BSE, or mad cow disease. She also held talks with Swiss officials about Germany's continuing ban on imports of Swiss cattle.

After meeting the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, on Tuesday, Künast said she had been particularly interested to find out how the various government departments and agriculture organisations were working together to cope with the BSE crisis.

"I wanted to learn more about the clearing-up operation and how the parties concerned cooperate."

She added that she would re-consider a German import ban on Swiss cattle, after Couchepin criticised the measure. He said it made no sense to maintain a ban on imports of live cattle, when Swiss beef could be freely imported into Germany.

Künast said Switzerland had started dealing with the disease long before Germany, and that she had plenty to learn from her visit.

The first cases of BSE came to light in Germany last November, since when 44 cases have been identified. The disease first surfaced in Switzerland in 1990, and 360 cases have since been discovered.

The Swiss approach to BSE differs significantly from that of Germany in that herds in Switzerland do not have to be slaughtered as soon as a case of BSE is detected. Instead, only cattle which are one year older or younger than the sick animal are destroyed.

Couchepin said there were "no absolute certainties" about BSE and it was up to individual countries to tackle the disease in any way they saw fit.

Switzerland has refused to follow Europe's lead and test all cattle over 30 months old for BSE. The authorities believe such a test creates a false sense of security because the test can only detect the disease a few months before the symptoms become apparent.

Künast, who is also Germany's consumer protection minister, was due to hold talks with the federal veterinary office, as well as those for agriculture and health.

She was accompanied by representatives of the German government and the European parliament.

swissinfo with agencies


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