Germans turn to turkey as fifth BSE case sparks further consumer panic

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The Independent Online

Germany's BSE crisis deepened yesterday as its neighbour, Austria, banned all imports of German cattle and beef and the government in Berlin issued an urgent warning that cooked sausage could be contaminated.

Germany's BSE crisis deepened yesterday as its neighbour, Austria, banned all imports of German cattle and beef and the government in Berlin issued an urgent warning that cooked sausage could be contaminated.

With many customers spurning red meat, German turkey suppliers also said shoppers could expect to prepare for pre-Christmas shortages.

As the country's fifth case of mad cow disease was confirmed there were growing signs of consumer panic in a nation which, until last month, considered itself BSE-free.

Austria's unilateral ban on meat imports came into effect yesterday morning, underlining the dramatic loss of confidence in Germany's ability to control the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, Andrea Fischer, the health minister, met legal advisors in an attempt to find some way of banning specific kinds of sausage from supermarket shelves. Without the powers to order emergency removal of the products from shops she instead advised people to avoid certain kinds of meat products.

The concern surrounds sausages made with meat prepared before Germany implemented a European Union ban on brain or spinal tissue - the so-called Specified Risk Material which is thought to be the most infectious part of cattle - being used in human food.

Germany has been rocked by the outbreak of BSE in its domestically-reared cattle. Consumers are spurning beef products with sales of sausage, a staple of the German diet, said to be down by 20 per cent. With many people switching to chicken and turkey, the country's biggest supplier, the PHW Poultry Group, has said prices are rising and shortages are possible.

Although the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of goose is not affected, some newspapers are even testing alternative meats on behalf of their readers. One Berlin paper, the BerlinerZeitung, even conducted a taste test of zebra, ostrich, kangaroo, crocodile and shark for its women's page this week under the headline 'BSE-free alternative meat'.

That search for alternative and safer meat has spread across Europe, with Belgium reporting increased exports of horsemeat to France where consumer alarm about mad cow disease is also high.

In Germany the shock is all the greater because farmers, particularly those from the southern state of Bavaria, have often boasted that the national herd was free from the disease because of strict regulations. In addition to the five cases now confirmed, at least one more animal is undergoing tests.

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