Germany vows action after dioxin scare

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The German government vowed Sunday to get tough after a dioxin poisoning scare led to import bans on some of its farm products, as a survey showed one in five consumers in Europe's top economy avoiding eggs.

"This is a big blow for our farmers. They have totally innocently been dragged into this situation by the sick machinations of a few people," Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"It is tough to shake off the suspicion from the information that we have so far that criminal energy has been combined with an alarming unscrupulousness.

"The judiciary has to clamp down hard."

Police last week raided a firm in northern Germany suspected of supplying up to 3,000 tonnes of fatty acids meant only for industrial use contaminated with potentially carcinogenic dioxins to some 25 animal feed makers.

Tests on samples from the company, Harles und Jentzsch, showed nine samples out of 20 had dioxin levels higher, or much higher, than permitted, with one 78 times over the legal limit.

Tests by the firm itself in March last year had revealed high dioxin levels, but this was not reported to the authorities, the agriculture ministry in Schleswig-Holstein said on Friday.

Its 25 customer companies then delivered reportedly up to 150,000 tonnes of contaminated feed to farms -- mostly those producing eggs and rearing poultry and pigs -- across the country.

Germany banned some 4,700 of Germany's 375,000 farms from selling any products while authorities performed tests, destroying more than 100,000 eggs and launching recall actions. Some 700 have since been given the all-clear.

The German government has moved to curb fears by saying tests conducted so far on eggs and poultry meat indicate that there is no immediate risk to public health.

This was despite tests showing meat from two chickens with dioxin levels above the norm.

But public faith has been shaken, with 21 percent of people currently steering clear of eating eggs because of the scandal, a poll published in the Bild am Sonntag showed. It was unclear how many people were surveyed.

None of the contaminated feed was exported, Berlin says, and just 136,000 eggs -- annual output is 10 billion eggs -- went abroad, and all to the Netherlands, where some were made into products that ended up in Britain.

The European Commission has said there were no grounds for a ban on exports of German meat or other products and called import restrictions by South Korea on German pork imports "out of proportion."

This did not stop EU member state Slovakia suspending sales of German poultry meat and eggs while it conducted tests.

Russia's agriculture watchdog said it had stepped up controls on food of animal origin from Germany and also from other EU countries although it did not specify which ones fell under the tougher regime.

Aigner was due on Monday to meet with feed suppliers and farmers' associations to discuss possible consequences from the scare.

© 2011 AFP

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