- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2001

Two of Germany's Cabinet ministers stepped down Tuesday in a furor over mad cow disease that was more a statement about Germany's phobias than its realities. There have only been 10 established cases of the disease in cattle there, but the agriculture and health minister have been widely criticized for not correctly handling said "outbreak" of the disease.

In the wake of the first discovery of the disease in a cow last fall, Health Minister Andrea Fischer, a Greens member, made a villain of the farming industry which she said put financial interests before consumer health. Let it be noted here that not a single consumer has died from eating the beef in Germany. But Mrs. Fischer, who is partial to ecological farming practices, warned Germans on the eve of the Christmas holidays that sausage just might be dangerous. Now the wiener-deprived nation is being bombarded with lists of which wursts fall into the partial-risk, high-risk and low-risk categories. Beef sales have plummeted, and chicken has become a hot item.

Agricultural Minister Karl-Heinz Funke, a Social Democrat, took to writing poems promoting beef production to let out his frustrations. His staunch pro-beef stance did little to help things, and the quarreling couple was never able to agree on a plan to reform the farming sector. Chancellor Schroeder seemed to accept their resignations with relief. On Wednesday, he installed replacements who would be more consumer-friendly and who would promote cow processing in greener pastures.

Unfortunately, those ministerial casualties appear to be just the beginning of the beef phobia. Spanish newspapers took up the hysteria Wednesday, and held up the German resignations as an example to be followed by their own ministers. A whopping five cows had died there of the disease, causing beef sales to plummet 25 percent in Spain.

Now consider the case of the United Kingdom, where 100,000 cows have been infected with the disease and 80 people have died in Britain of the human version of the disease. Not a single minister has had to step down, and the people, if anything, are merely frustrated with being told they are not allowed to eat beef.

The panic that Germany is spreading is more likely related to hypochondria than heifers. Europeans would do well to leave the madness to the cows.

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