German pig cull after dioxin find

11th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

German authorities ordered the slaughter of hundreds of pigs on Tuesday after finding high levels of dioxin in pork for the first time since shutting down thousands of farms for tests last week.

"A test on the meat has shown high levels of dioxin content," Gert Hahne, a spokesman for the agriculture ministry in the state of Lower Saxony, told AFP. "The animals must be slaughtered and will then be incinerated."

The farm concerned was one of 4,700 banned last week from selling their produce after it emerged that up to 150,000 tonnes of potentially dangerous animal feed had been delivered nationwide, mostly for poultry and pigs.

The spokesman said no meat from pigs that may have eaten the suspect feed was in circulation. Like the other farms, it was not allowed to move or sell any animals or other products while test results were pending.

Previously, only eggs and three chickens had been confirmed to be contaminated, according to the federal agriculture ministry, and all but 558 farms had been given the all-clear as of Monday.

The health scare, which began last week with authorities destroying 100,000 eggs, prompted South Korea late last week to ban German pork imports and Slovakia to halt sales of German eggs and poultry meat.

This was despite the fact that the German government has insisted throughout that there was no immediate risk to human health, and the European Commission in Brussels calling import restrictions by other countries disproportionate.

Public trust in Germany has also been shaken, with demand for organic eggs, unaffected by the scare, shooting up, according to experts and shopkeepers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sales of organic meat are also on the rise.

Authorities believe that the root of the contamination is a firm in northern Germany suspected of knowingly selling late last year to some 25 animal feed makers around 3,000 tonnes of fatty acids only meant for industrial uses.

The German government said that it believed none of the suspect animal feed was exported, but the European Commission said on Monday that some had made it to Denmark and France.

Around 136,000 eggs were also exported to the Netherlands, some of which ended up in Britain.

The German government has vowed to crack down hard on those behind the scare and has said it wants to look at tightening regulations in order to prevent a repeat.

"The damage that has been caused is immense, not only financially but also when it comes to consumer trust ... This is a scandal, as consumers who expect safe food were duped," federal Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said on Monday.

"This incident must and will have consequences."

Measures could include wider monitoring of the industry, doing more to ensure that production of ingredients for feed and industrial uses is kept separate and tougher penalties, the minister said.

The European Commission warned Tuesday it might consider EU-wide regulations if manufacturers failed to do enough, following what a spokesman in Brussels called a "disappointing" meeting late Monday with animal feed firms.

© 2011 AFP

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