The unease is almost palpable in this NYT article on the significance of government changes in Germany - it reports that Europe is now set "on a collision course with the United States over genetically modified corn and other foodstuffs" and that this is "a conflict likely to intensify".
Two Named to New German Agency in Shuffle Over Beef Disease
By ROGER COHEN
January 11, 2001
New York Times
BERLIN, Jan. 10 ”” Chancellor Gerhard Schröder created a new super-ministry for food, agriculture and consumer protection today and handed it to the environmentalist Greens, signaling a back-to-nature approach to combating mad cow disease that is certain to alarm the powerful European farm lobby.
By naming Renate Künast, 45, a Berlin lawyer with no experience in farming to head a ministry with such sweeping powers, Mr. Schröder has gambled that any loss of support among farmers will be more than compensated by support from ecologically conscious Germans alarmed by the discovery of mad cow disease.
"It is high time that we changed the course of agriculture," Mr. Schröder said at a hastily called news conference. "We want food safety through appropriate methods that are good for the environment."
Despite Mr. Schröder's bold declarations, the fact is his government is in some disarray after the resignation on Tuesday of his health and agriculture ministers, who took the blame for the government's chaotic response to the discovery in Germany of 10 cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ”” commonly known as mad cow disease.
The reality is also that west European farming is overwhelmingly dominated by large-scale, industrialized farming, heavily subsidized by the European Union, and any attempt to revert to smaller, more humane and organic forms of agriculture would amount to an expensive revolution that most farmers would resist.
Mr. Schröder appeared to recognize the difficulties by warning that a wholesale move to biologically friendly farming could not provide "enough healthy food at affordable prices," but Ms. Künast, the co-leader of the Greens, said she was determined to steer agriculture "back to nature."
The outbreak of mad cow disease has heightened already strong concerns among European consumers about how "natural" or "organic" their food is. This mood has set the continent on a collision course with the United States over genetically modified corn and other foodstuffs, a conflict likely to intensify.
"Europeans do not want genetically modified food ”” period," said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, of the Greens. "It does not matter what research shows, they just do not want it and that has to be respected."
No cases of a deadly nervous condition in humans ”” new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease ”” that has been linked to mad cow disease have been discovered so far in Germany. That has not prevented near- hysteria among consumers. Beef sales have plunged, as elsewhere in Europe, and prices for poultry and fish have risen.
Mr. Schröder also named Ulla Schmidt, a teacher and deputy leader of the Social Democratic parliamentary group, to become the new health minister. Ms. Schmidt, 51, gained respect in Parliament last year for her strong defense of the government's proposed pension reforms.
The disease among cattle is believed to result from the use of animal products in feed. Germany long held that its cattle were not susceptible because such forms of feed were not used. The recently discovered cases are blamed on tainted grain.
It is unclear how quickly Mr. Schröder's government can recover from the damage done by its slow response to the disease and by the departure of four ministers in the past three months. What seems certain is that the next few months will be volatile after the generally smooth sailing the chancellor enjoyed last year.