January 9, 2011

German Meat Heightens Global Anxiety

Worldwide fears elevated Saturday over safety of German meat as countries place bans on sales of poultry and pork because of contaminated animal feed, although the European Union declared there was no need for such measures.

Germany's agriculture ministry tried to soothe concerns over food safety with test results showing acceptable levels of dioxin -- which in larger quantities can cause cancer -- in poultry and meat.

South Korea became the first country to place a ban on the contaminated meat, suspended imports of German pork, according to the European Commission, stating that the country is overreacting.

"It is a decision which is out of proportion as to what is going on in Germany, but we are going to try to talk with the South Koreans to reassure them," Frederic Vincent, spokesman for European health commissioner John Dalli, told AFP.

The commission does not consider there are any grounds for declaring a ban on exports of German meat or other products from the country "because the farms have been closed and farm products which have been delivered are blocked, awaiting analysis," said Vincent.

Slovakia imposed restrictions on German meat, after it suspended sales of poultry and eggs while it conducted its own tests to assess the levels of dioxin. "The agriculture ministry has ordered checks in shops and warehouses in response to the discovery of dioxins in certain foods," Slovakian officials said in a statement.

"Pending the results of laboratory tests, the sale of eggs and poultry imported from Germany will be temporarily suspended," the officials said.
Russia's agricultural regulator 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. The regulatory body also warned that Russia could ban all meat imports if it did not receive official information on the matter.

"The European Union still lacks a system to react urgently to cases that could be dangerous for animals and humans," spokesman Alexei Alexeyenko told the Interfax news agency.

As many as 4,700 farms were closed down and more than 100,000 eggs were destroyed after tests showed dangerous dioxin levels, officials from Germany said Friday.

Harles und Jentzsch, in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, is the company at the heart of crisis. It allegedly supplied more than 3,000 tons of contaminated fatty acids to some 25 animal feed makers that were meant for industrial use only. Most of the fatty acids were delivered in November and December to animal feed makers in Lower Saxony, where it was used in fodder.

The German agriculture ministry tried to calm fears of contaminated food supplies by announcing that tests of poultry scheduled for distribution showed dioxin levels that were "well below the authorized limit."

Six other tests performed by the ministry on pork showed dioxin levels were of acceptable levels, it said.

Growing pressure has been placed on Harles und Jentzsch, which has been accused of fraud and tax evasion in addition to possibly breaking health regulations.

"Lots of things lead us to think that the company cheated its clients and transformed fatty acids into low-quality feed for livestock," an agriculture ministry spokesman in Lower Saxony told a local newspaper.

As many as 136,000 eggs from a suspect German farm were exported at the beginning of December to the Netherlands. The European Commission has also said tainted eggs may have shown up in Britain.

Both Netherlands and Britain have played down the health risk.


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