German dioxin scare eases; more than half of farms safe (1st Lead)
Jan 10, 2011, 12:20 GMT
Berlin - German officials issued an all-clear Monday for over half of the 5,000 farms that were told during a dioxin scare last week to stop shipping their eggs and pork, causing ripple effects in trade worldwide.
Alarmed trade officials as far away as South Korea had banned German sausage after hearing about the alert. A company had admitted supplying a fat with elevated dioxin levels to makers of ready-made animal feed in Germany's Lower Saxony state.
Lower Saxony's agriculture department said the ban had been a precaution only, and scientists had only found elevated dioxin in eggs on 10 farms. All the produce on those farms was destroyed.
About 3,000 farms were given a clearance and the last 1,470 were being checked Monday. The remainder of the banned farms are in other states. A federal spokesman said 1,635 farms in all were still unable to ship produce.
In Berlin, a federal Agriculture Ministry spokesman rejected a claim that the dioxin source had been detected.
Foodwatch, a group that is critical of factory food, had earlier claimed the source was pentachlorophenol (PCP), a fungicide that is banned in Germany but is used in Asia and South America, and that one fat sample was 164 times over the legal limit.
Foodwatch issued the claim just hours before consumer activists and animal-feed companies were to meet in Berlin with Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner.
Aigner's spokesman, Holger Eichele, said the Foodwatch claim was pure speculation and all that mattered was the official laboratory report, which was not complete yet.
A Germany fats company, Harles und Jentzsch, has admitted that it made fat to enrich animal feed by using recycled fatty acids that were unsuited for animal consumption.
Foodwatch said a study of the pattern of dioxins and another chemical, known as furanes, in a fat sample obtained from a Harles und Jentzsch associate indicated that they were from pentachlorophenol (PCP), an anti-mould product.
Germany has banned manufacture of PCP since 1986 and has clamped down on its sale since 1989.
Foodwatch claimed one fat sample had had a dioxin content of 123 nanograms of dioxin per kilogram, or 123 trillionths.
It said the general legal limit was 0.75 nanograms, so this level was 164 times higher than allowed. Last week government officials said the worst-contaminated fat sample they had found contained 78 times as much dioxin as allowed.
German officials have explained that the dioxin was repeatedly diluted as the fat was mixed into feed and moved up the food chain.
Chickens stored a fraction of the dioxins in their body fat. The end result in affected eggs was only double the permissible level. Risk analysts say eating a few of the eggs poses no health risk, but long-term contamination is a serious danger.
Dioxins harm reproductive health and the immune system and can cause acne.
Harles and Jentzsch reportedly cut high-dioxin fats with low- dioxin fats so that the mixture was mostly within legal limits.
Minister Aigner said she was studying whether to tighten up licensing procedures on companies that supply the ingredients to the firms that mix animal feed and supply it ready-made to farms.
In the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, she said Monday's meeting would allow her to get information first-hand about what had happened.
But Foodwatch's chief, Thilo Bode, accused Aigner of protecting the animal-feed industry.
'She is covering up for the mixers of poison instead of closing the obvious safety gaps,' he alleged.
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