Fears over high dioxin levels in German meat products spread over the weekend as Slovakia and South Korea announced a ban on some meat and egg imports from Germany. But Brussels says there are no grounds for the bans.
Fears are growing about the fallout from the dioxin scandal
Slovakia on Saturday temporarily suspended sales of poultry meat and eggs from Germany, becoming the first country in the European Union to impose restrictions on the German products.
The Agriculture Ministry said it had suspended the sale "pending the results of laboratory tests," even though the EU has declared no need for a ban.
Earlier Saturday, South Korea also announced a stop on imports of pork and poultry products from Germany. According to the EU, it was the first country to do so since revelations of elevated dioxin levels in livestock feed first emerged last week.
"The South Koreans have told us they are suspending the imports of pork from Germany, to our knowledge the first country to take such a step," Frederic Vincent, spokesman for the European Commissioner in charge of health, told news agency AFP.
"It is a decision which is out of proportion as to what is going on in Germany, but we are going to try to talk with the South Koreans to reassure them," he said.
Chang Jae Hong, an official with South Korea's Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the government would be quarantining German meat products and testing them for dioxin, which can cause cancer.
He said the measures did not constitute a formal ban, but that they would remain in place "until we hear that the meat is safe."
Russia, one of the largest markets for German pork and poultry, also said it was imposing stiffer import controls.
Authorities are investigating Harles and Jentzsch
"It shows once again that a quick reaction system is missing in the European Union for cases that pose a danger to the health of animals and people," a spokesman for the country's food regulator was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
German media reported on Saturday that abnormally high dioxin levels had also been detected in fat-tissue samples from chickens.
Potential criminal charges
Early in the week, reports surfaced that animal feed company Harles and Jentzsch had sold fat containing high levels of dioxin to animal feed producers.
The scare has crippled farm and factory production as authorities impounded vast amounts of meat and eggs, and has affected the export of farm produce.
German authorities said 3,000 tons of the feed had been contaminated, leading to the closure of more than 4,700 farms and the culling of around 8,000 chickens. The government said the measures were precautionary and that consumers faced no serious danger.
Harles and Jentzsch is reported to have detected high dioxin levels in its fat in March - nine months longer than previously thought.
"If it is confirmed that the company knew since March that its fat was tainted but it did not inform authorities then that is highly criminal activity," Ilse Aigner, the German agriculture minister, told German broadcaster n-tv.
An official with the German Agriculture Ministry said the firm was being investigated and criminal charges were being considered.
Dutch and British authorities are also investigating their egg products
Fears are growing in several countries that farmers could have been using tainted livestock feed for months.
Authorities in Britain and the Netherlands are investigating whether food containing German eggs - like mayonnaise or liquid egg products - was safe to eat. Several British supermarkets have withdrawn products that could be contaminated with dioxin from German eggs, according to the Food Standards Agency.
Dioxin is a by-product of burning rubbish and other industrial processes. It can cause health problems in humans, including cancer, and miscarriages.
Meanwhile, a Saturday report by the regional daily newspaper Westfalen-Blatt quoted Gert Hahne, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture for the state of Lower Saxony, as saying Harles and Jentzsch may also be guilty of fraud and tax evasion.
Hahne said there was evidence that the firm knowingly mixed industrial fat, used in the production of biofuels, into fat sold for animal feed production. The firm can charge 500 euros per ton for the industrial fat while clients may pay 1,000 euros for the animal feed fat, he said.
Author: Andrew Bowen, Martin Kuebler (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar