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German ministers quit over BSE crisis

BERLIN, Germany -- Two German ministers have resigned after facing intense criticism over their handling of the mad cow disease crisis.

Health Minister Andrea Fischer announced her resignation at a press conference on Tuesday, while Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke confirmed his decision to quit in brief comments to reporters.

Fischer, from the environmentalist Greens party, admitted the government's handling of the outbreak of BSE had done nothing to restore consumer confidence.

She said: "I hope that by resigning I can contribute to an end of the revelations and help promote a return to business as usual."

She told the snap news conference she was resigning because the public had lost faith in her ministry, but also said the real fault lay with modern factory farming methods.

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Funke, meanwhile, told reporters that his resignation had been tendered in a "friendly atmosphere."

Returning to Berlin late from a day meeting with farmers in his home state of Lower Saxony, he said: "I want to clear the way for a new new beginning in agriculture politics.

"I have been forced to acknowledge that the farming policies I consider to be appropriate were no longer supported by a majority in the coalition," Funke said.

"I want to clear the way for a fresh start that many apparently consider necessary."

It had been thought that BSE was not present in Germany, but 10 confirmed cases have been found since November.

Fischer had faced growing opposition calls to resign after admitting that a warning by government experts about sausage industry practices "apparently lay around for 10 days" in her ministry.

"Everyone should take responsibility for their own mistakes," Fischer said at the news conference, adding that a decision on her successor has not been made.

Criticism from European Union officials last month forced Fischer to call on food producers to withdraw sausages from stores suspected of containing possibly infected beef.

Funke, 54, a farmer and a member of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, had spoken up in defence of factory farming, putting himself publicly at odds with the chancellor's call for a return to more traditional methods.

Last week a series of measures aimed at cracking down on the disease were announced, but were withdrawn following an inter-departmental row. On Monday, it was announced that new plans would be drawn up.

The Greens are junior partners in a coalition dominated by Schroeder's centre-left Social Democrats.

Schroeder has defended Fischer and Funke over their handling of the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), discovered in several German cattle after comprehensive testing began last autumn.

But he has admitted Germany had been complacent in its approach to the disease and had for too long assumed its farming methods would spare it from BSE.

The dramatic developments in Germany came as the mad cow disease scare continued to send shockwaves around Europe.

Scientists believe eating products from animals infected with BSE causes variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the fatal, brain-wasting human form of mad cow disease.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Germany intensifies mad cow fight
January 5, 2001
European beef ban spreads
January 5, 2001
Global action over mad cow fears
December 22, 2000

RELATED SITES:
World Health Organisation - BSE and vCJD fact sheets
Human BSE Foundation
European Union
French Government directory
Belgian Federal Government

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