Dioxin scandal threatens farmers′ livelihoods | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 06.01.2011
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Dioxin scandal threatens farmers' livelihoods

Some farmers in Germany say they could go bankrupt after a chemical contamination in animal feed forced them to close their farms. Now they want the feed producer to compensate them for their losses.

Eggs with Dioxin sign

It could take weeks before the extent of the contamination is known

Heiko Franke's 1,600 pigs, many of whom were scheduled to be slaughtered this week, have been granted a reprieve.

Franke's farm in Oldendorf in northern Germany is one of more than 1,000 chicken, turkey and pig farms whose operations were pre-emptively halted after they were linked to animal feed that had been contaminated with the poisonous chemical dioxin.

"We were shocked and surprised when we got the call that we were being quarantined. No one told us before that there could be something in the feed," Franke told public broadcaster ARD.

Waiting game

It's still unclear whether or not Franke's pigs have actually been contaminated. Blood and tissue samples will be sent to a laboratory to determine whether the dioxin levels are under the acceptable limit. Until then, none of the animals can leave the farm.

"We just have to wait until the tests are done and the samples are taken - whether tissue samples or blood samples, we'll have to see. The experts are still working on it," he said.

In the meantime, Franke is stuck with mounting costs.

"Every day that the pigs are just standing here costs money." Franke estimates his farm can last two weeks before he'll be threatened with insolvency.

Someone has to pay

Chickens in a cage

Over 8,000 chickens have been culled as a result of the scandal

The German Farmers' Association has called for the feed producers to compensate farmers for their losses.

"Whoever causes the damages should also pay for them," the secretary general of the association, Helmut Born, told the daily Tagesspiegel.

The scale of the damage to farmers is still unclear. "But we must expect an order of magnitude in the millions," said Born.

Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner has vowed that there will be consequences for the perpetrators of the contamination.

"Whoever puts the existence of hundreds of companies and the health of consumers at risk must be held accountable," Aigner said.

Future is bleak

Eggs with a dioxin warning sign

Contaminated eggs are believed to have been exported to the Netherlands

Meanwhile feed manufacturer Harles and Jentzsch, which produced the contaminated feed, isn't optimistic about surviving the scandal.

"We are pretty depressed, and will likely have to close up shop," marketing chief Klaus Voss told the newspaper Westfalen-Blatt.

The company says the contamination of its animal feed with dioxin-laced industrial fat was an isolated case and that they notified the authorities themselves.

Up to 3,000 tons of an animal feed additive have since been found to contain traces of dioxin, according to a report from the German Agriculture Ministry obtained by the news agency DPA on Wednesday.

The head of the German Food Safety and Inspection Service said a shortage of inspectors is partly to blame for lapses in quality control.

"We would need up to 1,500 more inspectors in order to exert any significant surveillance-pressure over the industry," Martin Mueüller told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily.

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Rob Turner

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