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German Dioxin Outbreak Prompts New Animal Feed Standards

The Federal Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection unveiled new production rules after 4,700 farms were closed in the German dioxin outbreak.

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Photo: jay.plemon (flickr)

On January 7, abnormally high levels of dioxin were found in a farm in Verden, a town in Lower Saxony, Germany.

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Tough New Rules

In response to last week’s dioxin outbreak that caused 4,700 German farms to be closed and hundreds of pigs to be slaughtered, the German Agricultural Minister Ilse Aigner has introduced a tough anti-dioxin action plan.

As part of the proposal, fats used in animal feeds and industrial fats will be strictly separated, the government will have increased involvement with feed producers, and farms and factories must regularly report on ingredients tests.

Aigner’s response comes at a time when the German government is facing pressure from the European Union, the sixteen German states, and the global market to recover from the dioxin scandal. China and South Korean has already banned imports of German pork and Germany’s European partners are wary of German pork, poultry, and egg products.

The city of Berlin wants an additional measure that would require the entire European Union to ban companies from producing fats for animal feed and fats for industrial use in the same facilities.

This is the fourth dioxin scandal in the EU in the past ten years, and every incident was caused when industrial fat was mixed into animal feed.

The Outbreak: What Happened

On January 7, abnormally high levels of dioxin were found in a farm in Verden, a town in Lower Saxony, Germany. Tests showed that animal feed pellets manufactured by Harles & Jentzasch GmbH had 70 times the approved amount of dioxin, which was later traced to eggs, poultry, and pork that had been shipped around Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. At the Verden farm 140 pigs were slaughtered when tests showed their dioxin levels to be 50% higher than the legal limit.

Although EU officials say that the eggs, poultry, and pork do not have high enough levels of dioxin to make them a risk to humans, German authorities froze the sales and exports from 4,700 farms last week. Though many have reopened, 538 farms remain closed.

This restriction comes as a financial blow to Germany because pork makes up 68% of the German meat market, with poultry following at 17%, according to the Meat Industry Association. In 2009 alone Germany produced 5.2 million tons of pork and exported 1.4 tons to other European Union countries.

Dioxins: What Are They

Dioxins are toxins made as a by-product when different chemicals are combined in industrial products. Most often they are made during the manufacturing of chemical substances like pesticides, paints, and exhaust.

Dioxins can be found in many areas of the industrialized world including in the air, water, and food, but high levels of exposure to dioxins can cause a wide range of negative effects, including cancer and damage to the immune and reproductive systems.

When animals eat contaminated feed, the dioxins are absorbed by their fatty tissue. For this reason, foods that are high in fat such as eggs, milk, and meat tend to carry dioxins. Because these ingredients are often used in the production of other foods, a dioxin outbreak can be difficult to trace.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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