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Hormone-Tainted Feed Scandal Engulfs Northern Europe

An already beleaguered German animal feed sector is reeling from Europe’s latest widening food scare involving hormone-laced animal feed. Germany's consumer ministers are now demanding more action from the EU.

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Pig farms are believed to be the worst affected by the present hormone feed scandal

Contaminated feed and animals have now turned up in all but four of the European Union’s 15 countries since the MPA hormone was discovered last month in food stuffs at three farms in The Netherlands, the world’s third-largest pork exporting nation.

Germany, along with Belgium and The Netherlands, has been the hardest-hit by the latest food scare.

Germany’s Minister for Consumer Protection and Agriculture, Renate Künast of Alliance '90/The Greens, said on Tuesday that a few hundred feed plants would most probably have to be closed.

In the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, which border Holland, more than 300 pig farms and animal feed producers have been temporarily closed as they are inspected for traces of the hormone medroxyprogestrone acetate (MPA), which is suspected of causing infertility in pigs and humans.

Tracking the source

The safety measures and closing down of suspect plants and farms so far in Germany has been based on a list of customers belonging to the Belgian reprocessing firm Bioland, which based in Antwerp.

Belgian authorities believe the firm – which has since gone out of business – imported waste from an Irish pharmaceutical factory owned by U.S. drugmaker Wyeth.

Bioland, in turn, is accused of having mixed the hormone-containing pharmaceutical waste with glucose syrup and animal feed molasses and to have provided it to Dutch feed makers as well as exported the same to other European countries.

German authorities also believe that the list contains consignments, that were delivered within Germany in June and July 2002. According to a press spokesperson in the Consumer Ministry of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, products containing the banned growth hormone MPA could have landed in Germany as early as August 2000.

German health authorities are now awaiting further information from Belgian authorities to determine exactly how long and in what proportion molasses containing MPA are present in Germany – whether in the form of a basic ingredient for the soft drink industry or in the form of animal feed.

German Consumer Minister for EU-wide positive list

Meanwhile Germany’s Consumer Minister Renate Künast of the Green Party has been leading the way in demanding that the EU in the wake of a series of animal feed scandals now publish a positive list of substances and ingredients that animal feed should consist of.

So far the EU only has a negative list that determines what shouldn’t be allowed into animal feed. Apart from pharmaceutical waste, even sewage waste and poisonous plants are banned.

But it doesn’t seem like the positive list will be drawn up in a hurry by the EU’s Food and Animal Feed Safety Committe.

Though EU Consumer Commissioner David Bryne has promised that his ministry will come up with a plan for a proposed positive list, his press spokeswoman Beate Gminder told the "Berliner Zeitung" "we first have to consider over 10,000 substances and several thousand animal species. As a matter of principle we have to also define feed for rare animals such as crocodiles. We can’t just have a list that takes into account the usual farm animals".

Criminal elements at work?

Both Bärbel Höhn, Consumer Minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and Renate Künast, Consumer Minister at the federal level share the view that despite the existence of an EU-wide negative list several feed producers are "unscrupulous" when it comes to mixing animal feed.

"There’s no limit to human imagination when it comes to mixing animal feed with all kinds of things", Höhn told the "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

Künast said, "There are feed producers all over Europe who buy the cheapest stuff: waste, acids and bases from industry, as long as it is edible for animals".

Apart from a positive list, Höhn also believes that the animal feed industry is regulated less strictly in the EU than the food industry. "According to EU law, we have free movement of goods, but since then there aren’t any checks at the borders any more", she told the "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

Despite the fact that there is a clear process of waste management in the EU, the Irish pharmaceutical company did not notify the authorities of the remnants of the anti-baby pills that it exported to Belgium and nor did the Belgium authorities, Höhn said.

"That’s a case of criminal energy having played a role", she said.

Animal feed scandals plague Germany

There’s a sense of déjà vu as Rentate Künast once again urges consumers in Germany to pay attention to the quality of meat that they buy, or in case of suspicion to give up eating meat for a while.

Just last year, the BSE crisis sent alarm bells ringing throughout Germany and in early May this year, the detection of a cancer-causing herbicide nitrofen in animal feed on organic farms in Germany once again unsettled German consumers.

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