January 10, 2011
Fear over dioxin-tainted eggs spreads in the EU
A scare over eggs that may have been tainted with dioxin at more than 4,700 German farms has spread to the Netherlands and the UK, where some of the eggs were shipped.
EU officials say the public should not be too worried about the levels of dioxin in the eggs, but they are also trying to determine which food products the dioxin was used in.
German officials shut down farms in five states on Monday (Jan 3), mainly in Lower Saxony, where it is believed the feed for hogs and chickens was contaminated with traces of dioxin, a potentially dangerous carcinogen. Millions of eggs were withdrawn from the market, and 8,000 chickens were culled.
Authorities said that they have filed criminal charges against the German company that allegedly supplied tainted fatty acid to animal feed makers, media sources reported. The company, Harles and Jentzsch, knew for months that the fatty acid it was selling to animal feed makers contained certain levels of dioxin.
Charges were filed because the company did not immediately inform agricultural officials about the dioxin levels, according to a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry.
Officials were alerted earlier this week that at least 3,000 tonnes of animal feed allegedly containing an additive with traces of dioxin had been sent to 1,000 farms in Germany. An estimated 136,000 eggs from those farms were then sent to the Netherlands and the UK, according to UK media sources.
Dioxin is a chemical substance that can cause cancer and miscarriages, among other health effects.
German officials, mindful of the possibility of consumer panic, swiftly told the public that the levels of dioxin in the tainted eggs were too low to pose health risks, media sources said.
The European Commission said on Thursday (Jan 6) that there was no reason to believe the dioxin levels in the eggs were harmful to humans. But at the same time, EU officials were trying to find out if the tainted eggs had already been used in food products like mayonnaise and pastries, according to media sources.
"The issue is of the utmost importance", said EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, who added that he is in regular contact with German officials.
The German Farmers' Association said the tainted-egg scare has meant an estimated loss of between US$52-US$70 million a week to the industry.
The scare originated in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein with Harles and Jentzsch, which allegedly supplied up to 3,000 tonnes of contaminated fatty acids meant for industrial use to animal feed producers, media sources said.
The company said that it notified officials after realizing some of its animal feed contained dioxin traces, and also said it was an isolated case.
Media sources reported that laboratory tests from March 2010 showed that the fatty acids contained excessive levels of dioxin.
The German Farmers' Association wants the feed producers to compensate farmers for their losses, media sources said.