High levels of dioxins–chemical toxins that are byproducts of waste incineration–have shown up in eggs and animal feed in Germany in what news reports describe as a spreading scandal.
In the past few days, some 1,000 farms in Lower Saxony and dozens of farms in neighboring Rhine-Westphalia have been quarantined after levels of dioxin exceeding mandatory limits were found at poultry and pig farms.
Authorities say their investigation so far points to dioxin-contaminated oil meant for industrial use in biofuels somehow being substituted for vegetable fats as the feed was being processed.
About 8,000 laying hens that ate the contaminated feed have been destroyed, and as many as 120,000 eggs recalled, most of which were sold before Dec. 23, although on Tuesday there were concerns that dioxin-tainted eggs could still be on store shelves.
The BBC reported that a prosecutor in Schleswig Holstein in northern German was initiating preliminary legal proceedings against Harles and Jentzsch, which supplied the feed, although a statement from the company implicated Petrotec AG, a biodiesel plant. That company said the Dutch intermediary had been told the oil was not intended for food or feed use.
North Rhine Westphalia’s Consumer Affairs Minister Johannes Remmel said it was “a scandal and there must now also be a discussion about the political consequences,” including compensation for the farms forced to halt sales.
Violation of Germany’s animal feed laws can carry a sentence of up to three years in prisons or a fine, according to a Reuters news account.
So far, the European Commission has taken no steps to halt German food exports because the problem has been limited to Germany.
Dioxins are highly soluble in fat and bio-accumulate in fatty tissue–whether it be human or food animal–and some are known carcinogens. Low level exposure has been linked to a variety of health problems including lower sperm count and neurobehavorial effects.