Germany seeks to learn dioxin lessons

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Germany's dioxin scare eased Monday as thousands of farms banned from selling their produce began operating again but the government pressed the animal feed industry to clean up its act.

"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," Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said in Berlin.

"This incident must and will have consequences."

Germany banned some 4,700 of its 375,000 farms last week from selling their products but 3,000 were given the all-clear on Sunday, leaving 1,635 still subject to restrictions, an agriculture ministry spokesman said.

"The authorities expect this trend to continue and for the number of farms closed to fall significantly in the coming days," Holger Eichele told a regular government briefing.

"However, no (complete) all-clear can be given until all test results are on the table."

Police last week raided a north German firm suspected of knowingly supplying up to 3,000 tonnes of fatty acids meant for industrial use with high levels of potentially carcinogenic dioxins to some 25 animal feed makers.

These 25 companies then delivered reportedly up to 150,000 tonnes of contaminated feed to thousands of farms -- mostly those producing eggs and rearing poultry and pigs -- across large parts of Germany.

The government has said there was no immediate risk to public health.

Around 100,000 eggs were destroyed and farms banned from selling their products, as South Korea suspended imports of German pork and Slovakia halted sales of German eggs and poultry meat.

The European Commission has called export restrictions "out of proportion".

"We are in talks with (South) Korea in order to convince the authorities there of the effectiveness of the measures. We are making clear that at no point did German exports pose any health risk," Eichele said.

Slovakian Agriculture Minister Zsolt Simon said that the ban on sales there remained in place, pending the results of tests expected on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.

Aigner has vowed to crack down hard on those behind the contamination and on Monday met with feed suppliers and farmers' associations to discuss the way forward.

"I expect them not only to contribute actively to clearing up what happened, but also that they put concrete proposals on the table on how to avoid cases like this in future," she told reporters.

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

She said that she would meet with agriculture ministers from Germany's 16 states on January 18.

© 2011 AFP

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