Poison in the Feeding Trough | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.05.2002
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Poison in the Feeding Trough

As the reverberations of the BSE crisis die down, Europe could well be in for another rude food scare. This time contaminated fishmeal, especially in the Netherlands. And Germany is raising fears of new infection.


Tasty? But, watch out! They could be contaminated

Alarm bells are ringing out throughout Europe after it was discovered that Germany and three other European countries could have imported animal feed laced with a potent antibiotic, chloramphenicol.

The antibiotic is used to treat such life-threatening diseases as anthrax and typhoid. In the long run, scientists fear the antibiotic could enter the human blood marrow and halt the production of human blood cells and lead to a potentially lethal form of anaemia.

German Minister comes in for flak

The German Minister for Consumer Protection, Renate Künast of the Green Party is under fire for failing to inform the public in time about a large stock of contaminated Dutch fishmeal that landed on the German market last year.

In spite of a warning issued by Dutch authorities, the German Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection, Nutrition and Agriculture did nothing to prevent the contaminated consignment from being delivered to six animal feed producers in Germany, and three other companies – one each in Denmark, Poland and Romania.

Animals to be slaughtered?

German Agriculture Minister Uwe Bartels of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) says that German federal and investigative authorities are now on the traces of the contaminated fishmeal to determine how far the infected stock could have been delivered.

They are also checking the deliveries that were made by the nine animal feed producers in the suspected time period. If they discover that parts of the contaminated food stuff have already been fed to animals, they will have to examine the affected livestock and slaughter them if the need arises, he said.

Public anger mounts

As the scandal comes to light, public outrage is building up in Germany over the negligence of the Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection, Nutrition and Agriculture.

Ulrich Niemann, President of the German Association of Animal Feed (DVT) lambasted the authorities involved, "This is not about an animal feed scandal, but rather about scandalous slip-ups on the part of the official screening authorities in the Netherlands and Germany.

Germany has already begun impounding material at certain animal feed plants as tests are underway. Masterfoods GmbH, a German unit of the US group Mars Inc., has already withdrawn some dry catfood from sale, produced by its Verden factory in Lower Saxony.

EU to take action

The scare is bound to reignite concerns about the health and environmental impact of fish farming.

David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, emphasised that the EU was paying close attention to food security and reiterated the Commission’s approach to take consumer interests into account in all policies.

The next few months will also see the start of the newly established European Food Safety Authority.

Fishmeal contamination not a new problem

The issue of fishmeal contamination is not a new one.

Last year the European Commission slashed the permissible levels of toxin contamination in fishmeal and fish oil after an investigation by an EU scientific committee showed that they pose a potential threat to human health.

The committee also discovered that fishmeal and fish oil carried the greatest contamination of all animal feeds, raising the possibility of toxins crossing into the human food chain.

Another group of experts, the Scientific Committee on Food, also found that fish and fish products were the main contributors to exposure to dioxin contamination, ahead of dairy and meat products.

The concentration of dioxin-related compounds in fish and fish products was 10 times the level found in other foodstuffs.

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