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Germany

A Blow To Organic Farming

Following the scares around BSE and foot-and-mouth disease, Germany's food sector has been hit by yet another scandal. Chicken feed containing a dangerous pesticide has found its way into over 100 organic farms.

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Even organic products don't appear to be safe from scandals.

For many German consumers, organic products were the only safe option in times of mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease. People felt reassured that "bio" food was thoroughly controlled and could be eaten without any qualms.

But a new scandal has hit precisely this sector. The pesticide Nitrofen has been discovered in over 100 tons of wheat delivered over the past year to organic farms.

The cancer-causing agent was fed to chickens at more than 100 "bio" farms in northern Germany. In numerous states, authorities have begun recalling poultry products and eggs.

Are other European countries affected?

The Nitrofen scandal could take on larger dimensions than initially thought. According to Renate Künast, Federal Minister of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, it still isn't clear whether only organic wheat is affected.

Renate Künast

German Agriculture Minister Renate Künast.

"Right now, we can't say how the Nitrofen got into the feed," said Künast (photo). "If these were exports from eastern Europe, then other EU countries will also have to ask themselves what we are actually facing."

She said the use of Nitrofen is still allowed in several eastern European countries, but didn't name them. Germany banned the pesticide in 1988.

Eastern Europe exports several million tons of wheat annually to EU nations. But the precise origin of the scandalous wheat has not yet been determined.

Hiding the truth

It has also materialized that meat inspectors knew months ago that batches of poultry were contaminated with Nitrofen. Künast stressed that this would "have consequences". There are reports of financial sanctions for private laboratories who were already aware of the problem.

The opposition Christian Democrats have sharply criticized Künast, a member of the Green party. She has strongly promoted organic farming since scares such as BSE hit the food sector.

But critical voices have also surfaced from the Green coalition partner, the Social Democrats. Lower Saxony's agriculture minister Uwe Bartels said this scandal showed that "Künast's one-sided agrarian policy to benefit organic farmers" was not justified.

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