Germany’s federal states have agreed on tough measures, including possible prison terms for offenders, in an effort to prevent a repeat of the dioxin scandal that has severely damaged the agriculture industry.
Ministers agreed on tougher sanctions for those who ignore new dioxin rules
At a crisis meeting in Berlin on Tuesday, Germany’s federal and state agriculture ministers agreed to tough new measures aimed at preventing a repeat of the continuing scandal surrounding animal feed tainted with dioxin. The measures were outlined in a plan presented last week by Agriculture Minister, Ilse Aigner, who had come under considerable pressure to address the crisis.
Faced with calls from the opposition to resign because for being "too slow" and "indecisive" in dealing with the scandal, Aigner made it clear that she expected regional leaders to meet her half way in getting on top of the dioxin crisis and adopt her ten-point plan. She also said consumers were demanding concrete steps.
"It's important that we made so much progress during our meeting today," said Aigner. "This will enable us to contain the current crisis and it'll also help us prevent a repeat of such incidents. Food safety will be greatly improved in the country as a result."
At the height of the dioxin scandal, up to 5,000 farms were closed across the country. Around 900 are still closed, most of them in Lower Saxony.
Jail for offenders?
Aigner has been criticised for her handling of the dioxin crisis
During the meeting, the state ministers broadly backed Aigner’s original proposals. They agreed to tighten licensing procedures for animal feed producers and impose tougher sanctions against negligent feed producers, including possible prison sentences.
The ministers also agreed that fats for animal consumption and fats for industrial purposes are to be produced separately and to extend regular checks of animal feeds.
The results would have to be reported automatically and immediately to the authorities. There would be unified standards for the checks in all 16 states which would also involve federal inspectors.
"Producers of feeds and foodstuffs will continue to have the duty to report any incidents where hazardous substances are found during checks," said Bremen’s Minister for Consumer Affairs Ingelore Rosenkotter. "But from now on, not only the producers themselves, but also those who run the laboratories for the tests will have the same obligation."
German exports and reputation suffer
Yet the damage to Germany's reputation as a food producer has been done: Dioxin contaminated exports were reported in the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Britain, while Denmark, France and Italy are also thought to have received contaminated goods.
"We are not even getting sufficient answers to basic questions," said Russian industry supervision chief, Sergej Dankwert. "We are deeply worried. If the German security measures are ineffective, we can barely trust our partners there,"
A bad start to the world's biggest food fair that starts in Berlin this week
Dankwert said he intends to raise the ineffectiveness of German security measures at the International Green Week, the world's largest agricultural fair, which starts in Berlin this week.
The European Union's Commission announced on Monday that it is sending a team of experts to Germany to see how authorities are dealing with the dioxin scandal. Under EU rules, each member state is responsible for health and food safety in its territory, but the commission coordinates between nations if there is cross-border contamination.
"The experts will see how they can assist the German authorities," said European Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent. EU agriculture ministers are to discuss the dioxin scare on January 24.
Authors: Hardy Graupner, Wilhemina Lyffyt
Editor: Rob Turner