January 6, 2011


EU demands answers from Germany over animal feed dioxin scare



The EU wants Germany to reveal the full extent of the dioxin scandal in animal feed in the country.


The discovery of the highly poisonous chemical dioxin in German eggs and poultry last week has unleashed an investigation and triggered calls for re-evaluating food safety regulations.


A spokesperson for EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, on Tuesday (Jan 4) demanded to know whether contaminated eggs or meat had been exported to other member states. It was, however, "too early" to consider a ban on exports, he added. The poisonous chemical dioxin was discovered in eggs and poultry last week and is believed to have stemmed from animal feed contaminated with industrial fats.


The state of North Rhein-Westfalia closed on Wednesday (Jan 5) a further 139 farms as prosecutors in the state launched an investigation targeting chicken feed producers for having used contaminated ingredients.


Johannes Remmel, the state's consumer affairs minister, demanded consequences for those responsible for the dioxin contamination.


"This is a scandal and we have to discuss the political consequences. That means we have to talk about the [distribution] chain; whether the controls are sufficient," Remmel said.


Remmel added that more farms could still be shut down in the wake of the investigation. "I don't think we have an acute danger, but dioxin simply does not belong in food. There is a reason we have maximum permissible limits. Dioxin is dangerous to your health and can cause cancer," he said.


More than 1,000 chicken farms across Germany have been banned from selling eggs and poultry and over 8,000 chickens were culled after cancer-causing dioxin was found in animal feed.


Authorities in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony Anhalt said that at least 55 tonnes of suspect feed out of a total of 527 tonnes had already been fed to chickens and that more than 100,000 contaminated eggs had gone to market.


The EU has legally binding limits for concentrations of dioxins in foodstuffs.


Heidelore Fiedler, an expert on chemicals for the United Nations Environment Programme, told Deutsche Welle that the levels discovered in the contaminated eggs in Germany "far exceeded" these limits.


Dioxins are regarded as dangerous because they are toxic in minute quantities. They "exhibit many toxic effects in humans and animals including cancer" and target the immune-, reproductive- and nervous-systems, Fiedler said.


A further problem is their persistence. Fiedler said that of the many chemicals commonly referred to as dioxins, "17 compounds are very stable and do not degrade or metabolise easily."


"They accumulate in animals and humans and are only slowly excreted through transformation into more water-soluble compounds. Presently, the intake from background exposures is still higher than the elimination, therefore, body burdens in humans increase over a lifetime," Fiedler added.


The affected farms are believed to have purchased animal feed contaminated with dioxin from a facility in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein which, in turn, received toxic products from a dealer in the Netherlands.

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