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Food Contamination Scandal Hits Europe

Food Contamination Scandal Hits Europe

Published January 7, 2011

The German fats manufacturer Harles & Jentzsch is in big trouble after tests of animal feed made with its product revealed more than 77 times the accepted levels of a chemical called dioxin, which can cause cancer in humans. Some 3,000 tons of the contaminated additive has reportedly been sold to 25 feed-production companies across five German states, leading to the closing of 4,700 farms as the scandal widens. 136,000 potentially tainted chicken eggs were delivered to the Netherlands, and South Korea has already put a block on German pork and poultry products.

“The first indications point to a high level of illegal activity,” said a spokesman for Germany’s agriculture minister, Ilse Aigner. “There are indications that the company was not even officially registered in order not to expose itself to official controls.”

But the ministry stresses that the farm closures are only precautionary at this point, and that there have been no health problems as yet associated with the contaminated feed. According to the BBC, “even though the levels of dioxin found have exceeded legal limits, they are still not dangerous.”

Still, people are rightfully upset. An editorial in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (helpfully translated by Der Spiegel):

“There is an urgent need to overhaul the inspection system. The times when a farmer prepared feed for his own animals are no more. Today, it is based on a division of labor. The dioxin case shows just how complex these processes have become. Something is mixed by one person, delivered by another, who then mixes it again and then distributes it to someone else. By the time the feed ends up in the trough it has been through many hands. In the case of contamination this distribution chain has to be carefully unraveled.”

Disturbing echoes of Goodie Mob’s paranoia rap classic “Cell Therapy” where Big Gipp rhymed: “Run your hand over the scanner to buy your dish now/No more fishin’ for your fish…”

There are good things about industrialized food production. More food, for starters, for lots of people on the planet who need it. The potential benefits are huge. But this episode is another reminder of the problems. And, certainly, an argument for tighter regulation.

Written by Dave Bry

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