Germany Closes 4,700 Farms for Dioxin Checks (DJ)

Source: Dow Jones Newswires

(dated 07/01/2011)

Jan 7 – Germany closed more than 4,700 farms and related businesses for safety checks late Thursday after tests on suspicious feed confirmed the presence of a cancer-causing dioxin.

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.

“The states are acting as they must in banning as a precaution–and this in the absence of concrete results from analyses–all products, including eggs and meat, which had partially contaminated fodder as their origin,” said a spokesman at the agriculture ministry in Berlin.

Food safety was the “absolute priority”, he added. The agriculture ministry has set up a hotline for worried consumers.

Eight of Germany’s 16 states were affected by the closures, but most of the farms are in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony. They will be closed until they are found to be clear of the dioxin and won’t be allowed to make any deliveries, the ministry said. There are around 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 metric tons of contaminated fatty acids meant only for industrial usage to around 25 animal feed makers.

Tests on samples from Harles und Jentzsch showed nine out of 20 had dioxin levels higher, or much higher than legal, the Schleswig-Holstein ministry said.

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

However, 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 in late December, the paper said.

The scandal has now spread beyond Germany’s borders.

German authorities Wednesday informed the European Commission and business partners that 136,000 eggs, or nine metric tons, from contaminated German farms had been exported to the Netherlands.

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

But a statement Thursday from Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the tainted eggs were not thought to pose a threat.

“The mixing of the eggs will have diluted the levels of dioxins,” the agency said.

Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner called for tighter regulations at the European level to protect the food chain in a phone conversation with European Commissioner for Health John Dalli.

Businesses making fatty acids for fodder should not be able to manufacture materials destined for industrial use on the same site, she had told the commissioner.

The German government said earlier that up to 150,000 metric tons of feed were feared to have been contaminated.

Dioxin, a by-product of burning rubbish and industrial activities, can cause miscarriages and other health problems in humans, including cancer.