Ausstellung: Margrit Herbst (EN)

Dr. Margrit Herbst

  former veterinarian at the slaughterhouse Bad-Bramstedt    

„In my opinion the problem in the „case of Dr. Herbst“ is not if Dr Herbst back then, referring to the time since August 1999, has been diagnosing BSE on beef cattle at the slaughterhouse Bad Bramstedt correctly or if her diagnoses turned out to be false after years. Moreover I see the main problem in how the responsible authorities treated the clinically examined suspicious facts pointing towards BSE back then. We could learn out of this procedure for the future, especially in respect of the dealing with so called whistleblowers.“, writes Dr. Dieter Deiseroth, judge at the Federal Administrative Court Leipzig in a note dated November 30th 2001.
Until her dismissal without prior notice in 1994 Dr Margrit Herbst is an employee of the county Segeberg in Schleswig-Holstein. A veterinarian at the meat hygiene office she had her workplace at the slaughterhouse Bad Bramstedt.

Since 1990 she points out symptoms on examined beef cattle which in her opinion indicate BSE, at first in-house, later on publicly. BSE-infected animals show changes in their behaviour or disposition, including problems in coordination leading to not being able to get up anymore.

After her in-house warnings did not lead to her researched suspicions to be disproved in a reliable medical way so that the beef cattle concerned were still not being kept out of the food chain, she then turned publically with her concerns.
In 1994, after numerous warnings, she is dismissed without further notice by her direct supervisor, the head of district authority in Segeberg due to a television interview. Essentially the explanation points out that she had offended against her duty of official secrecy. Taking the case to labour court does not help her. She is laid off and ends up in early retirement.

But Dr. Herbst does not give up her case. She is proceeding to raise the alarm.
The Mad Cow Disease BSE and the possibility of disease transmission among humans eating contaminated meat became a mayor European issue and scandal during the 1990ties. England became the negative model country. But also in Germany where almost all experts were „sure“ of the animal stock to be „BSE-free“ and were preening themselves on this „fact“, over 100 cases of BSE were revealed and confirmed publically after 1998.

As a result of the public attention to the issue BSE the dismissal of Margrit Herbst and the way the local authorities had treated her were starting to be criticized by a broad majority of people. A lot of people and institutions state their sympathy with a woman who obviously was ready to sacrifice her own career and her whole professional existence because she was worried about the safety and health of uninformed citizens – and lost this battle.

The request for rehabilitation and reemployment of Mrs Herbst is not only addressed to her former employer it is also demanded from the Committee on Petitions of the Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein. Further on there is the idea to suggest Margrit Herbst as a candidate for the awarding of the Federal Order of Merit by the Federal President. According to the proposal procedures this requires that the state government – i.e. the prime minister of that state and his/her administration, which does not seem a very democratic approach – in Kiel formally requests and supports the award. The Federal President thus send the suggestion he received to the prime minister of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Heide Simonis. In June 2002 it comes to a rejection. What had happened?

According to Dr. Herbst and her lawyer`s statements declared under oath „… (Frau W.-P.) declared that the Federal government of Schleswig-Holstein wants to approve the awarding of the „Bundesverdienstkreuz“. Prior to this it had to be made sure that Frau Dr Herbst acknowledged the verdicts issued against her and stated that she would not raise any claims on a state or county level.“

Margrit Herbst and her lawyer reject this „offer of reconciliation“ made as a requirement for the Honour Medal in order to protect their own honour.
The end of the story: Dr Margrit Herbst is about to be recognized as a courageous woman and is suggested to be honoured. But before this can happen she is supposed to eat humble pie. To acknowledge the issued verdicts against her and to relinquish all claims including her rehabilitation which would mean to acknowledge her former behaviour as a whistleblower to be incorrect.

Dr Margrit Herbst was not honoured with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. But in 2001 she won the whistleblower prize of IALANA and the Federation of German Scientists (VDW) as an acknowledgement of her commitment to a well-functioning and transparent democracy.

 Foto: (c) Petrov Ahner   –   Text: (c) Annegret Falter – WBNW e.V.
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