Sat, Jan 08, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Germany closes farms in dioxin scare

AFP, BERLIN

A farmer holds up an egg next to one of his hens at a chicken farm in the town of Schleiden, Germany, on Thursday. The German government moved to calm public fears after highly toxic dioxin contamination turned out to be more widespread than first thought.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A food scandal in Germany deepened yesterday, as regional authorities shut down more than 4,700 farms after tests showed animal feed had been contaminated by a chemical that can cause cancer.

Fears grew that the contamination could have entered the food chain earlier than thought, as tests on animal fats at the firm at the center of the scandal reportedly showed they were tainted as far back as March last year.

In a statement late on Thursday, the German agriculture ministry said “4,709 farms and businesses are currently closed,” including 4,468 in the state of Lower Saxony, northwest Germany.

The farms will be closed until they are found to be clear of contamination with dioxin, a toxic chemical compound that can cause cancer, and will not be allowed to make any deliveries, the ministry added.

Eight of Germany’s 16 states were affected by Thursday’s closures. There are about 375,000 farms in Germany.

The firm Harles und Jentzsch in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein is alleged to have supplied up to 3,000 tonnes of contaminated fatty acids meant only for industrial usage to about 25 animal feed makers.

The majority of this contaminated acid — 2,500 tonnes — was delivered in November and last month to animal feed producers in Lower Saxony, where it was used as fodder.

The Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung reported yesterday that tests conducted on Harles und Jentzsch as far back as March last year had revealed dioxin levels twice the permitted maximum amount.

The March test was not transmitted to the correct authorities and the agriculture ministry in the northern state of Schleswig--Holstein only received the results of the test late last month, the paper said.

Prosecutors have launched an investigation into the company.

The scandal has now spread beyond Germany’s borders.

German authorities on Wednesday informed the European Commission and business partners that 136,000 eggs — 9 tonnes — from contaminated German farms had been exported to the Netherlands.

The European Commission also said on Thursday the hunt for potentially dioxin-tainted eggs had also turned to Britain.

However, a statement on Thursday from Britain’s Food Standards Agency said the tainted eggs were not thought to pose a threat.

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