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24th Mar 2019

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China bans German pork, egg imports over dioxin scare

  • China wants to protect its consumers from the German dioxins (Photo: Proggie)

China on Wednesday (12 January) suspended all pork and egg imports from Germany, after German authorities found that dioxin-contaminated animal food had been used in pig and poultry farms.

Chinese firms were told to immediately halt imports of all "German-produced edible pork and egg products", China's product safety watchdog said, ordering inspections on goods imported from Germany before Tuesday.

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The move came after German authorities ordered the slaughter of 140 pigs at a farm in Lower Saxony following the discovery of dangerous dioxin levels in pork. Dioxin is a toxic substance which, if assimilated in high doses, can cause cancer and miscarriages.

So far, only South Korea has banned German egg and pork imports, while Hong Kong said that all incoming pork and pork products from Germany would be held for examination and only put on sale if they were safe to eat.

The scare began last week when it emerged that a German firm, Harles und Jentzsch, had mixed industrial fat destined for bio-fuel production with oils used by animal feed producers and sold some 3,000 tonnes of it. Tests on animal food produced with the illegal fatty cocktail found levels of dioxin - a by-product of industrial combustion - at 77 times the admissible limit.

German authorities destroyed some 100,000 eggs last week and shut down 4,700 farms, most of which were cleared after tests. Another 136,000 eggs meanwhile were exported to the Netherlands, some of which ended up in Britain.

The contamination of pig meat is taking the scandal to another level, however, as two thirds of all the meat consumed in Germany is pork and officials cannot rule out that tainted products have been sold in supermarkets before the discovery.

"This is a scandal that is growing bigger and worse every day," Johannes Remmel, agriculture minister in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.

There are also indications that Harles und Jentzsch has been selling the contaminated fatty acids since last March, a Schleswig-Holstein agriculture ministry spokesman told Westfalen-Blatt daily.

The company is under investigation for criminal activities and filed for insolvency on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the regional court in the western town of Itzehoe said.

Pressured to resign over the scandal, German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner on Wednesday defended herself and said she was working on an "action plan" to be discussed with regional agriculture officials before briefing EU officials in Brussels on 24 January.

"This dioxin case will not be without consequences," she told reporters.

Her comments come after EU officials said they had a "disappointing" meeting with industry representatives, because no proposals were put on the table to prevent further contamination in the future. The EU commission wants to usher in a system which strictly divides fats for industrial use and those used in food production.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the leader of the centre-right European People's Party in the EU legislature, Joseph Daul - himself a farmer - said that it was "unacceptable" not to have the two processes separated and that similar "accidents" would continue to happen unless the EU puts in place proper restrictions.

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