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New Zealand furious at German scrapie allegations

Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton has sought an explanation from the German government about the outrageous and incorrect claim alleging that New Zealand sheep have scrapie in a pamphlet distributed to all 33.5 million German homes.

Mr Sutton said the pamphlet amounted to attempted commercial sabotage of New Zealand lamb exports at a time when food safety fears were reaching fever pitch in Europe, after mad cow disease and foot and mouth disease outbreaks there.

"This sort of denigration of our healthy exports is not acceptable."

Mr Sutton said he had spoken to German Food Safety and Agriculture Ministry State Secretary Martin Wille last night.

"I told Dr Wille that the New Zealand Government was angry at the pamphlet's release by an organisation with Government links. He told me that the organisation's leadership would be summoned to his office today and they would be told they must convey the correct information to the German people. He would brief new German consumer protection, food safety, and agriculture minister Renate Kuenast about it tonight, New Zealand time.

"It is unclear how widespread the damage caused by the pamphlet is at the moment, so we cannot tell exactly what is required to fix the problem."

Mr Sutton said that regardless of whatever retraction and apology the Central Marketing Association of German Agricultural Products (CMA), the group which published the pamphlet made, it would be hard to dispel completely the allegation that New Zealand sheep had scrapie, and that scrapie is similar to BSE in cattle.

Humans cannot catch scrapie, but they can and do catch BSE.

On Wednesday, Mr Sutton is to meet Gerd Sonnleitner, the president of the German Farmers' Union, who is also a board member of the CMA.

"I will be letting him know just how unhappy we are with this so that he is in no doubt when he returns to Germany and he can help push the CMA into appropriate action."

ENDS

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