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The European Union is contemplating tougher food hygiene rules, following the dioxin scare in Germany that led to around 4,700 of its farms being closed last week and investigations into food safety in several other member states. Around 490 German farms remained closed.
A spokesman for John Dalli, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, said that the EU's 2001 food hygiene law could be "reinforced". Dioxins were found in eggs and poultry from German farms in concentrations up to four times greater than allowed under EU law. The contamination arose when fats intended for use in the paper industry were mixed with animal feed. German authorities suspect criminal activity, but are still investigating the contamination, which they believe dates back to March 2010.
Germany's agriculture minister, called for EU rules to ensure that fats for industrial uses and animal feed are produced in separate facilities. Aigner would also like to see EU authorities tighten safety further by establishing a list of substances that can be used in animal feed.
An EU official said that the authorities were still investigating how the contamination occurred. "It might be tempting to say that we need more legislation. Perhaps we need better monitoring. We are still in the process of finding out," the official said.
Contaminated egg products found their way to France, the Netherlands and the UK. Although dioxin levels were found by the authorities to be well below the levels considered dangerous to human health, some UK supermarkets decided to withdraw quiches and cakes made with the contaminated eggs as a precautionary measure.
Last month European ministers asked the Commission to draw up legislation to ensure that poultry, lamb and pork are labelled with their country-of-origin. Beef already has this requirement, following the BSE scare in the 1990s.
More than 90% of human exposure to dioxins, a group of compounds that cause cancer and reproductive problems, comes from food. Since the EU began setting limits for dioxins from 2002 – in response to an eggs and poultry scare in Belgium in 1999 – there have been four food scares in the EU.
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