Germany 2011: Dioxin in Eggs, Poultry and Pork

The German dioxin scandal of 2011 – 3 years later

In early 2011, a huge scandal originated in Germany when tens of thousands of eggs, chicken, turkey and eggs were found contaminated with the extremely toxic chemical dioxin. The dioxin levels found in the eggs and animals exceeded the “thresholds” by far.

Just last week, the German court having jurisdiction refused to open trial against the managing director of the responsible company, Harles and Jentzsch of Uetersen, Schleswig-Holstein. The prosecution could not provide evidence that a deliberate act had led to the contamination of more than 100.000 eggs and tens of thousands of pigs and turkeys. The managing director asserts that he did not know that ten fats were in any way tainted. The company has since gone into insolvency. Their factories and grounds have been taken over by Oleoserv, a Hamburg based company which continues to produce animal food on the premises – under very strict quality control, as the company assures.

Another trial against two managing directors of a food producer in lower Saxony was stopped when the 16th challenge of the court for bias by the defendants’ lawyers was granted. They had been charged with selling contaminated food wittingly.

What happened in 2011?

Discarded fat from food processing was (and still is) used by Petrotech AG, located in Emden, lower Saxony, to produce bio diesel fuels. Mixed residual fats are one of the non-usable side products. These mixed fats were sold to Olivet of Rotterdam and then resold to Harles and Jentzsch, who used the substances in the production of animal food fats. These animal fats are used as a basic substance for mass produced animal foods. They were sold to numerous animal food producers in several German states. It has never been completely ascertained at which point the dioxin found its way into the fat. More than 500 tons of animal food were poisoned.

The first news of the incident sounded serious, but did not encompass the full extent of the scandal (Euronews of Jan 4, 2011):

The scandal quickly spread over Western Europe (Reuters news of Jan 5, 2011):

One week later, it had become clear that chicken, turkey and pigs were also contaminated, and the culling had begun (AFP news of Jan 12, 2011):

The contaminated food was used for chicken, turkey and pig feeding. The toxic chemicals were first found in eggs and subsequently in the animals. All contaminated products and animals were destroyed. Farmers and animal food producers have filed damage claims for more than 20 million euros, but after Harles and Jentzsch’s insolvency, they have no hope of receiving even a small portion of their losses. At the time, more than 5.000 farms had been closed, 90% of which were located in lower saxony. Subsequently, egg dales dropped by more than 20%. The market for pork declined dramatically – for a while. Consumers forget quickly – especially when media attention turns elsewhere. „The interest in a food scandal declines quickly once consumers are not immediately affected any more“, says Martin Rücker oft he consumers organisation Foodwatch.  There are no official estimates how much contaminated food had been sold and used prior to the discovery of the dioxin. Rumors persist that some of the meat was simply deep frozen and the sold in the summer of 2011, when meat was in high demand for barbecues.

Consequences in legislation and administration

Prior to the scandal, fat as an ingredient in animal food production was completely uncontrolled. In the meantime, the EU has issued a directive obligating all food producers to record their fat purchases. And as a consequence of numerous food scandals in the past three years, the government of Lower Saxony has also taken some action. The State Office for consumer protection and food safety is being bolstered by 60 new officials, to be followed by another 120 positions until 2016/2017. Furthermore, a task force of 20 experts has been formed to ensure better crisis management in the future. If food scandals continue at the rate of the last few years, they will have ample opportunity to prove their effectiveness.

The Federal consumer minister oft he time, Ilse Aigner, claimed taht the food chain would be made much safer by the action plan she devised, with extended reporting duties for food producers. Her successor in the office is Heiko Maas.

Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to man. It can cause a variety of cancers, harm the immune system, the liver, and the nervous system.

Articles on the subject (the best sources are in German):

Andrew Schnieder’s “The Food Watchdog”

Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung (Feb 26, 2014): Nach dem Skandal ist vor dem Skandal

Der Spiegel: Dioxin-Skandal: Regierung verschärft Vorschriften für Futtermittelfirmen

Detailed discussion of dioxin, its variants, effects and origins in Wikipedia