BERLIN (Reuters) - Excessive levels of dioxin have been found in some German poultry amid a scare over the highly toxic chemical entering the food chain, and two countries temporarily banned imports of German meat as a precaution.
A health scare over eggs from German farms where hens ate dioxin-tainted feed deepened this week when a German state government said some poultry and hog feed had been contaminated since March. The company responsible faces prosecution.
On Saturday, Germany’s consumer protection ministry said several hens showed a dioxin concentration of more than twice the legal limit. The state of Schleswig-Holstein said its latest test showed seven of eight birds also had dangerous levels.
The federal ministry said the tainted chicken meat was not sold and the hens in question were killed and their carcasses “harmlessly destroyed.”
South Korea, the fourth largest pork importer in the world, reacted by banning imports of German meat due to concerns over contamination, a spokesman for European Health Commissioner John Dalli told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Slovakia, a fellow European Union state, also temporarily banned the import and sale of German eggs, poultry and pork pending tests at retailers which the agriculture ministry in Bratislava said should be concluded next week.
The health scare began last week when German authorities said some 3,000 tonnes of feed had been contaminated but at the time they believed it had been produced for only a few week.
Schleswig-Holstein then disclosed that some feed had been contaminated nine months longer than previously thought.
Operations at 4,700 German farms were shut down and thousands of hens culled in eight German states to try to prevent food supplies being contaminated by the tainted meal.
Authorities have traced the origin of the feed contamination to a Schleswig-Holstein distributor of oils for animal feed production, which distributed fatty acids meant for industrial use to animal feed processors.
State prosecutors are investigating the firm, Harles und Jentzsch, and an agriculture ministry spokesman said on Friday criminal charges were among the options being considered.
Eggs from some German farms using the feed were exported to Britain and the Netherlands for food processing but officials have said the eggs pose little health risk to consumers.
A German government source in Berlin said on Saturday the European Commission considered Germany to have reacted effectively and appropriately to the dioxin issue.
German officials will brief EU counterparts on the contamination in Brussels next week, and the incident could lead to new RU rules on industrial and animal feed oils.
Dioxins are toxic compounds formed by burning waste and other industrial processes. They have been shown to affect pregnant women and contribute to higher cancer rates.
Reporting by Brian Rohan in Berlin and Martin Santa in Bratislava; editing by Mark Heinrich