European health officials are now warning that the German dioxin outbreak may be worse than previously thought - extending beyond tainted eggs - and prompting some countries to take harsher action.
The dioxin scare surfaced after 3,000 tonnes (over 6,600 pounds) of an animal feed additive sold in Germany were discovered to contain trace amounts of dioxin, leading officials to ban over 1,000 farms from selling eggs.
According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are highly toxic and in addition to cancer, exposure to dioxins can damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and lead to reproductive problems.
And the news keeps getting worse. Last week, an analysis uncovered dioxin contamination in pork meat. The local German agriculture ministry says illegal levels of dioxin were found in a pig farm. The farmer uses a feed ingredient manufactured by Harles and Jentzsch, the company responsible for the dioxin.
Earlier this month, a report revealed another 136,000 potentially contaminated eggs were shipped to the Netherlands. But officials maintain that the level of dioxin in the tainted eggs does not pose a real risk to humans.
However, the findings forced Japan to step up its screening of pork, poultry, and eggs from Germany. Japanese officials have already ordered the slaughter of pigs and chickens suspected of being contaminated; other shipments have been quarantined.
Expressing its own concern, China has banned all pork and egg imports from Germany. But tainted meat may have already made it to market.
A spokesperson for the German food industry says the sale of eggs has decreased by nearly 20%, and chicken and pork around 10%.
Reacting to the worsening news, the European Union announced it will dispatch a team to Germany to investigate the situation and to assess how well Germany responded to the crisis.
Last week, Harles and Jentzsch filed for bankruptcy, after the source of the contamination was found to be industrial oil containing dioxin that was mixed with oil intended for animal feed.
Many farms banned from selling have been cleared to resume business as usual; 400 still remain closed. German ministry is calling for stricter regulation of animal feed, including more intensive inspections.
German officials insist stricter penalties and sanctions are the only way to influence offenders to clean up their operations.
Image credit: alles-schlumpf