Germany froze sales of poultry, pork and eggs from more than 4,700 farms yesterday to stem the spread of food contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin, as fears grew that farmers could have been using tainted livestock feed for months.
South Korea and Slovakia yesterday banned the sale of some animal products imported from Germany, while Britain and the Netherlands were investigating whether food containing German eggs -- like mayonnaise or liquid egg products -- was safe to eat.
Prosecutors in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein launched an investigation into the German firm Harles & Jentzsch GmbH, suspecting the company knew but failed to tell authorities that fat it had produced for use in feed pellets was tainted with dioxin.
The state agriculture ministry said it had information that the company had been producing tainted fat for months.
Test results published yesterday by the Schleswig-Holstein agriculture ministry showed that some of the fat contained more than 77 times the approved amount of dioxin. Dioxins are contaminants that often result from industrial combustion and other chemical processes. Exposure to dioxins at high levels is linked to an increased incidence of cancer.
Authorities believe 150,000 tonnes of feed pellets for poultry and swine may contain the contaminated industrial fat produced by Harles & Jentzsch.
Harles & Jentzsch chief Siegfried Sievert said earlier this week the company believed that byproducts from palm, soy and rapeseed oil used to make organic diesel fuels were safe for use in livestock feed.
Food safety experts said that the amount of dioxin that might eventually reach humans was probably not enough to trigger a health scare. "The concentrations detected in this case are above the legal tolerance limits, but only just. The potential risk of harm from these eggs is very low," said Chris Elliott, an expert in food safety at Queens University, Belfast.