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Rotten Meat Ruins Consumers' Appetites

DW staff (kh)November 24, 2005

A crackdown on the meat processing industry in Germany has uncovered cases of spoiled frozen food. Consumer advocates are now questioning the effectiveness of routine health controls.

Suspect meat has been undergoing testsImage: AP

An agricultural ministry spokesperson said 11 from 16 tests showed the confiscated frozen meat, which included poultry, horse, pork and beef, was past its use-by date and spoiled. The announcement came just days after another business in the same state was closed for allegedly selling chicken meat that had gone bad.

The meat originated in the European Union countries of Germany, Spain, and Italy, as well as Brazil. Officials are continuing to trace onward sales, but said there was no evidence so far the meat had ended up on consumers' plates.

Sixty tons of the meat was supplied by the wholesaler Dorenz, which is already under scrutiny by the district attorney’s office in Essen for allegedly selling spoiled goods. The other thirty tons came from a firm in Baden-Württemberg.

Bad beef

The scandal surrounding Dorenz first came to light at the end of October, when a routine check found three tons of spoiled roast beef, which had been reportedly relabeled with a new expiration date. Officers on Friday also confiscated nearly 60 tons of chicken that had passed its sell-by date.

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Rotten chicken meat was found twice in one monthImage: AP

Authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), where Dorenz is based, are in the process of investigating 100 refrigerated warehouses. A spokesperson for the NRW consumer affairs ministry said on Wednesday more than 40 warehouses had already been checked, and there were no further traces of rotten meat.

NRW's Consumer Affairs Minister Eckhard Uhlenberg has announced a tightening of food controls across the state. But he said that tests showed the spoiled meat posed no health risk.

Farmers' critique

The German Farmers’ Federation has criticized public health officials for failing to properly monitor wholesalers. But, spokesperson Richer Bröcker, said that tightening controls won’t necessarily solve the problem. “It’s like car theft,” he said. “Even if (courts) pass down a hundred sentences, it still happens.”

Matthias Wolfschmidt from the consumer organization Foodwatch said the latest meat scandal was just the tip of the iceberg. In an interview with the consumer protection magazine Guter Rat, Wolfschmidt said fraud in the meat industry was “the order of the day.”

He said ordinary citizens rarely found out about it because officials kept the cases secret. Wolfschmidt pointed out that two recent meat scandals in Bavaria and Lower Saxony were exposed by workers.

“If we had left it up to food controllers to uncover the cases, we probably wouldn’t have found out about it,” he said.