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Tainted Animal Feed Found in France and Denmark

Published on 11 January, 2011, Last updated at 02:20 GMT

France and Denmark on Monday became the latest countries affected by Germany's tainted food scare, in which pig and chicken feed were contaminated with dioxin and traces were found in exported food products.

Although the levels of the chemical detected in France and Denmark were considered low, they indicated that the contamination was not contained, as previously indicated, to Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, where food with egg products reached store shelves.

"In Denmark, these products were used for breeder hens, which are not in fact marketed," Frédéric Vincent, health and consumer spokesman at the European Commission, said in Brussels in a news briefing broadcast Monday. "In the case of France, in the lot exported, apparently the concentration of dioxin was lower than the maximum authorized concentration allowed in E.U. law for animal feed."

Mr. Vincent did not say whether animals had been exposed.

In Berlin, the government tried to show that it was in control so as to avoid any hysteria or speculation that the dioxin was becoming a major health hazard.

"There's no reason to panic but also no reason to relax yet either," Ilse Aigner, minister for consumer protection and agriculture, said Monday at a news conference. "The people who did this were irresponsible and unscrupulous."

Ms. Aigner held a crisis meeting with regional farming organizations and animal food producers and agreed to examine new measures to improve food safety standards and prevent another health scare. She called the meeting as the regional health and agricultural authorities adopted different positions after carrying out inspections.

On Thursday, officials in the 16 German states affected by the contamination ordered the closing of 4,700 farms, most of them in Lower Saxony. By Monday, more than 3,000 were reopened, according to the local and federal agricultural ministries.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, where 180 farms were closed last week but some were reopened over the weekend, 113 new farms were added to the list on Monday as inspectors stepped up their examination of fodder fed to chickens and pigs in the state.

In all, the number of sealed-off farms has been cut to 1,635 and could be further reduced in the coming days, said a spokesman for the agriculture minister.

The health scare began when German officials announced nine days earlier that eggs from German farms where hens ate dioxin-tainted feed had been contaminated. The German authorities said later that some poultry and pig feed had been contaminated since March. Thousands of chickens were culled and millions of eggs recalled from shops.

The Netherlands and Britain, which imported the contaminated products have increased inspections, although officials there said last week that the products made with contaminated eggs posed no risk. Dioxins are toxins produced by burning waste and other industrial processes. They can cause cancer and lead to miscarriages.

The origin of the contaminated fodder was traced to Harles & Jentzsch, a distributor of oils for animal feed production that is based in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. German prosecutors are investigating the allegation that fatty acids intended to be sold for industrial use were distributed to animal feed processors. Harles & Jentzsch has closed its Web site and is taking no calls.

The scare has led to temporary bans on German meat and poultry products exports to South Korea and Slovakia. South Korea, which imported a total 6,266 metric tons of German pork in 2010, said no German livestock products had been found to be contaminated.

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, part of the European Commission, is to meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Brussels.


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