The German agriculture minister has said introducing a new nation-wide early warning system would make a repetition of the dioxin scandal unlikely. But consumer protection organizations don't think it goes far enough.
Aigner wants to prosecute people who break animal feed rules
German agriculture and consumer protection minister Ilse Aigner presented the details of a ten-point action plan drawn up in response to the health alert which had spread over the past few weeks as more and more contaminated eggs and poultry were found in a large number of farms across the country.
"One thing is clear, this case will have consequences," Ilse Aigner told a news conference in Berlin on Friday.
While prosecutors are still investigating whether a manufacturer knowingly distributed fatty acids meant for industrial production to animal feed processors, the minister announced a stricter system of checks and tests for harmful substances in the whole processing chain.
"We will significantly increase safety standards and sharpen obligations to notify authorities and the duty to inspect," Aigner said, adding, "Consumers expect this and we are going to do it."
Among other things, she said there would be a new licensing scheme for producers of oils and fats for animal feed and she spoke of the need for a strict separation of oils and fats output for use in industrial processes and animal feed.
One in four eggs tested recently for dioxin was over the legal limit
Aigner said she'd also push for criminal law to be expanded to cover food and feed safety regulations.
"In this context, I consider a revision of the possible maximum prison sentences to be of central importance," she said.
"This should also go for cases of grave neglect, not just for premeditated actions. Experience has shown that it's not enough to impose fines - no matter how hefty they may be. We also need the deterring factor of prison sentences, but that will have to be clarified with the Justice Ministry."
The ministry's head of the dioxin contamination crisis team, Bernhard Kuehnle, said he regretted that South Korea and China had suspended imports of pork and egg products from Germany.
Kuehnle hoped that no other nation would follow suit, now that Berlin was taking measures to contain the crisis. He admitted, though, that deliveries of pork suspected of being contaminated with dioxin had already gone to some eastern European nations.
"We were able to obtain all the delivery papers. The sad news is that a lot of the meat was exported to the Czech Republic and Poland," said Kuehnle. "Unfortunately, the meat will have been eaten by now, and so there's no chance of getting it back."
Thousands of contaminated pigs and chickens have been culled
Social Democrat and Green Party opposition leaders said the ministry had taken too long to act and had nothing to offer in addition to measures already proposed by regional policy-makers.
Thilo Bode, head of the consumer protection pressure group Foodwatch, said most of the measures contained in the scheme looked promising on paper. But he didn't believe that they'd really be followed through. He was particularly skeptical about tougher and more frequent checks of foodstuffs throughout the whole production process.
"More food safety will mean higher food prices," Bode said. "But Germany sees itself predominantly as an export nation, and higher prices would dent our competitiveness abroad. That's why no German mainstream party - in government or in opposition - will really be serious about dealing with the safety issue effectively."
Some of the changes put forward in the action plan will need the consent and support of the country's 16 states. Talks with regional leaders are scheduled to start next week.
Author: Hardy Graupner, Natalia Dannenberg
Editor: Rob Turner