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Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 19:49 GMT
Germany to kill 400,000 cows
German farmers have been shocked by the scale of the slaughter
The scale of the slaughter shocks some farmers
A German cabinet meeting in Berlin has approved the slaughter of up to 400,000 cows over 30 months old to help stabilise the beef market in the wake of the crisis over mad cow disease, or BSE.

The cows will be killed under the EU's "purchase for destruction programme" which is expected to result in the slaughter of two million cattle by the end of June.

The European Commission on Wednesday pledged 971 million euros ($904m) in fresh money to help finance the programme, which was agreed by EU governments in December.

France and Ireland have already been implementing the scheme since the first week of January.

'No alternative'

The new German Consumer Protection and Agriculture Minister, Renate Kuenast, had been hesitating to approve the slaughter after protests by some farmers and animal rights groups.

"She has checked all the alternatives and concluded there is no other way," said her spokeswoman Sigrun Neuwerth.

German farmers will be compensated at close to market prices
German farmers will be compensated at close to market prices
German farmers are to receive compensation at close to market prices, with the bill split between Brussels and Berlin.

The ministry estimates the total cost of the buy-up, testing and slaughter programme will be over $300m, with $135m of that coming from Brussels.

Despite the misgivings of some farmers, the head of Germany's largest farmers' group, Gerd Sonnleiter, said he was relieved at the cabinet's latest decision.

"The distress of farmers and their animals can stand no delay," he said.

Pressure on Germany

The BBC's Berlin correspondent, Rob Broomby, says it is understood that Germany came under intense pressure from other European nations to join the buy-up scheme, as prices and consumption in the nation have fallen further than the European average.

Beef consumption has fallen by 30% in Germany, as compared with about 25% in Europe as a whole.

The German Government has gone further than most other European countries, by introducing compulsory testing for cows of 24 months or older.

It has also called for the culling of all cows in a herd in which BSE is identified.

Ms Kuenast pledged a tough line on consumer protection after her predecessor and the country's health minister stepped down over the botched handling of the crisis.

High costs for EU

Announcing the extra funding in Brussels, EU Budget Commissioner Michaele Schreyer - like Ms Kuenast, a member of Germany's Green Party - said the money would include 700 million euros ($651m) to buy and destroy animals.

She said there would also be an extra 238 million euros to intervene on markets to support prices and 33 million for BSE testing.

EU farm policy officials said on Monday that the cost to the EU budget of the crisis could reach seven billion euros over the next five years, in a worst case scenario.

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See also:

26 Jan 01 | Europe
UN: World at risk from BSE
23 Dec 00 | Europe
Global alert on BSE
04 Dec 00 | Europe
EU agrees anti-BSE action
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