Germany Shuts Nearly 5000 Farms in Dioxin Scare as Officials Probe 'Illegal Activity'

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Germany Shuts Nearly 5000 Farms in Dioxin Scare as Officials Probe 'Illegal Activity'

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A food scandal in Germany has deepened, as regional authorities shut down more than 4,700 farms after tests showed animal feed had been contaminated by a chemical that can cause cancer. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Justin Sullivan)

German officials are
investigating possible "illegal activity" after a company allegedly
supplied 25 animal feed makers with 3,000 tonnes of contaminated fatty
acids.

Tests from the Harles und Jentzsch plant in Schleswig
Holstein found excessive levels of the poisonous chemical dioxin,
officials said.

Some 4,700 German farms have been shut.

Officials say the dioxin levels pose no risk to humans, but contamination fears have spread across Europe.

Initially, the scare was confined to Germany but then it
emerged that a batch of eggs had been exported to Holland and from there
to Britain.

British authorities said that the amounts of dioxin - which is linked to the development of cancer in humans - in any egg would be very small, and not enough to be dangerous.

The dioxin scare has prompted South Korea to block imports of
German pork and poultry products because of health concerns, local
media reported on Friday.


No deliveries

Officials have traced the contamination to the
Harles und Jentzsch plant in the northern state of Schleswig Holstein,
where oils intended for use in bio-fuels were distributed for use in
animal feed.

"The first indications point to a high level of illegal
activity," said a spokesman for Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner on
Friday.

A private laboratory's sample test from the plant on 19 March
2010 had found more than double the acceptable level of 0.75 nanograms
of dioxin per 1kg of fatty acids used in animal feed.

Health officials only learned about the excessive level on 27
December, said a spokesman for the state agriculture ministry. The
cause of the delay between the test results and the notification of the
ministry remains unclear.

The extent of the problem was only revealed earlier this week
when German officials said 3,000 tonnes of feed had been affected. They
say the closures - mostly affecting pig farms in Germany's Lower Saxony
region - are only a precaution.

Authorities believe some 150,000 tons of feed for poultry and
swine containing industrial fat have been fed to livestock across the
country.

A doctor from the town of Havixbeck, near Munster, has lodged
a criminal complaint of attempted murder and severe injury against
Harles und Jentzsch, saying the company had acted out of greed.

Last week, more than 1,000 German farms were banned from selling eggs after dioxin was found in eggs and poultry.

Germany's agriculture ministry said most of the closed farms were ones raising pigs.

The ministry said the farms would not be allowed to make any
deliveries until they had been checked and found to be clear of
contamination.

There were no immediate reports of health problems connected to the contaminated feed, it added.


Authorities criticised

The EU has warned that eggs from farms affected by dioxin have entered the UK in processed products destined for human food.

The eggs had been sent to the Netherlands for
processing and then on to the UK where they were likely to be destined
for use in the production of a variety of food stuffs including
mayonnaise, cakes and quiches.

The difficulty is that German official assurances of safety
are being combined with inexact information which seems to change by the
day, correspondents say.

The authorities had failed to keep people properly informed,
at first saying only that eggs were affected, said an agricultural
specialist for Greenpeace in Germany.

"After, I think, three or four weeks people know more or less
about the eggs. But now we are talking also about pig production, about
milk and I think we are not at the end of the scandal. It's just
growing," said the specialist, Barbara Kamradt.

German officials will brief their EU counterparts next week and the incident could lead to new rules on animal feed.

Dioxins are toxins formed by industrial processes and waste burning.

They have been shown to contribute to higher cancer rates and to affect pregnant women.

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