Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Dioxin-tainted food scandal widens as cover-up uncovered

AP, BERLIN

Germany’s dioxin-tainted food scandal widened on Saturday as authorities banned another 934 farms from selling eggs, poultry and pork after finding out that one company had hidden its deliveries of possibly contaminated livestock feed.

Prosecutors in Lower Saxony state opened an investigation and police searched several of the feed producer’s offices, German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said.

“This is a scandal within the scandal,” she said.

Lower Saxony’s agriculture ministry said products from those farms have likely been sold over the past 10 days, “mostly eggs.” However, it reiterated its assessment that “consumption of these goods does not pose a health risk” given the low contamination level.

The scandal broke two weeks ago when investigators found excessive levels of dioxin in eggs and chickens, leading authorities to slaughter hundreds of animals and freeze sales from more than 5,000 farms. Excessive dioxin levels were also found in some pork.

As of Friday, all but 400 farms had been cleared and allowed to resume selling their products, but South Korea and China kept their bans on imports of German pork and poultry.

“The quality of the state authorities’ oversight of food and feed production has to be significantly improved,” Aigner told reporters in Berlin.

The minister, who had met officials in Lower Saxony to discuss the dioxin scandal on Friday, appeared outraged by the state authorities’ surprise announcement on Saturday morning and urged Lower Saxony Governor David McAllister to immediately reprimand those responsible for failing to properly oversee the feed producer.

However, a spokesman for the state’s agriculture ministry, Gert Hahne, rejected Aigner’s comments, saying authorities did their work properly and discovered the feed producer’s wrongdoing. The firm itself was not named.

Authorities have traced the infected feed to Harles & Jentzsch GmbH, which is under investigation by prosecutors. The company, which filed for bankruptcy last week, is suspected of using tainted fat to make pellets that were then sold as livestock feed.

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