A shipment of eggs from German farms affected by an alert over dioxin has been exported to Britain in processed products. The European Union has said the dioxin scare is "of utmost importance."
The eggs were exported to Britain in processed foods
Eggs from German farms affected by an alert over dioxin have entered Britain in processed products destined for human consumption, a European Union executive said on Thursday.
German authorities fear that up to 3,000 tons of animal feed contaminated with the carcinogen dioxin were sent to more than 1,000 poultry and pig farms in Germany. Eggs from some of those farms were apparently then exported to the Netherlands.
"Those eggs were then processed and exported to the United Kingdom," European Commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent told a news briefing in Brussels. The shipment was part of a 14-ton consignment of processed egg products.
"Whether it went into mayonnaise, pastries, I don't know," Vincent said. UK authorities are now investigating what happened.
Vincent stressed that while the eggs had come from farms in Germany where the contaminated feed had been distributed, it was unclear whether they had in fact contained dioxin.
However, tests on other eggs produced by the affected farms had been found to contain up to five times the legal EU limit for dioxin.
"The levels detected don't pose a risk to human health," Vincent added. "You would have to eat a lot of eggs, or a lot of processed products made with these eggs, in order for this to actually pose a risk to human health."
Of utmost importance
Dioxin is a by-product of burning rubbish and other industrial processes. It can cause health problems in humans, including cancer, and miscarriages.
EU Health Commissioner John Dalli said the dioxin scare was "of utmost importance" and that it should be pursued with "urgency and effectiveness."
Chickens were fed contaminated animal feed
The scare began when a German firm, Harles und Jentzsch, in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, apparently supplied up to 3,000 tons of contaminated fatty acids, intended only for industrial use, to animal feed-makers.
Initially the contamination was thought to involve only two of Germany's 16 states, however, it later emerged that the feed was delivered to at least 10 states, and some of the eggs from those farms had been sold abroad.
A total of 136,000 eggs from suspect poultry farms were exported to the Netherlands on December 3, where they were turned into processed foods. One batch was made into products that were exported to Britain as far back as December 12.
A second batch was mixed with Dutch eggs to make up three consignments of processed foodstuff. One of the consignments was said to be in deep freeze in the Netherlands, awaiting testing. The whereabouts of the other two consignments remained unknown, according to the European Commission.
German officials are expected to brief their EU counterparts in Brussels next week on the status of the contamination, but the incident could lead to new EU rules to avoid the mixing of industrial and animal feed oils during manufacture, Vincent said.
Fears over food security and traceability have been high since the "mad cow" disease scares of the late 1990s.
"The scale here cannot be compared to crises in the past," Vincent said. "We have drawn lessons from the past."
Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson