Green Week farming fair opens under shadow of German dioxin scandal | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.01.2011
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Green Week farming fair opens under shadow of German dioxin scandal

The annual International Green Week, touted as the world's largest agricultural fair, has opened in Berlin just as the country recovers from a dioxin animal feed scandal that has damaged the food industry.

Visitors sit in front of a giant poster with two cows

Green Week is billed as the world's biggest farming fair

Germany's prestigious agricultural fair, International Green Week Berlin, kicked off on Friday as the country's agriculture industry continues to recover from revelations that high levels of dioxin were found in animal feed.

The substance - a powerful carcinogen - found its way into eggs and pork, with some suspect produce being exported to other countries.

As the 10-day event got underway in Berlin, chemical tests appeared to show that fats intended for use in the industrial production of green fuel had instead been used as an ingredient for animal feed.

"There is a high probability the dioxin originated in materials used for the production of biodiesel," said Johannes Remmel, the agriculture minister for the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, announcing that there was no further threat of contamination from the source.

Green Week attracts agriculture ministers and industry representatives from around the world and is expected to draw 400,000 visitors this year.

Tighter controls announced

Scene in a supermarket

The dioxin scandal left some consumers unsure about which products were safe

At the fair, animal feed producers announced that tight controls were to be introduced to prevent a repeat of the contamination scandal.

Authorities have faced some criticism in the wake of the scare, with Social Democrat and Green party opposition leaders claiming that the government responded too slowly.

Jürgen Matern, head of quality assurance for retail firm Metro, told Deutsche Welle that a lack of information from the relevant agencies had posed a problem when worried customers approached store staff.

"They often asked us whether we had any of those products on offer," said Matern. "We were not able to answer such questions, because the regional authorities and prosecutors had stopped all information to partners like us in the supply chain.

We were left in the dark about any hazardous foodstuff deliveries."

'No such thing as zero risk'

More than 120 organizations were expected in Berlin on Saturday for a demonstration against industrialized food production techniques, timed to coincide with the fair.

But Catherine Francois from the Global Food Safety Initiative said that food production would always have its dangers.

"Zero risk is not achievable," Francois said. "We can try and improve and improve as much as possible. But unfortunately, there will always be safety risks that arise. Certainly we aim to make them much fewer and far between."

On a positive note, said Francois, there was much to celebrate about the way that food safety had improved in recent years.

"Food safety has never gone off the agenda," she said.

Deutschland Lebensmittel Dioxin in Schweinefleisch

Some eastern German farmers are unhappy with the concept of mass-rearing

End to mass-reared livestock?

An association of eastern German farmers used the fair's opening day to call for an end to "agro-industrial livestock breeding," claiming that mass-reared products were no longer what consumers wanted.

"Many farmers are embarrassed to show their barns as they know that what they are doing is not really right," said Kurt-Henning Klamroth, the president of the farmers' association DBB.

The results of a survey published on Friday, however, showed that three quarters of Germans wanted advances in conventional agriculture, in order to keep food prices low.

Only 21 percent were interested in more organic production methods, according to the survey by polling group Emnid.

Author: Hardy Graupner/rc
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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