German prosecutors may bring criminal charges against a company alleged to be responsible for contaminating animal feed with toxic dioxin, an agriculture ministry spokesman said.
Some 4,700 German farms have been shut down and thousands of hens culled in eight German states to try to prevent food supplies being contaminated by tainted animal feed sent to poultry and pig farms. Most of the farms are in Lower Saxony.[image:933:half:right]
The health scare deepened when the Schleswig-Holstein state government said that some animal feed had been contaminated since March - nine months longer than previously thought.
German authorities said earlier this week that 3000 tonnes of feed had been contaminated, but at that stage they believed dioxin-tainted feed had been produced for only a few weeks.
Authorities traced the origin of the feed contamination to a distributor of oils for animal feed production in the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein, where fatty acids meant for industrial use were distributed for animal feed.
State prosecutors are investigating the firm, Harles und Jentzsch, and an agriculture ministry spokesman said criminal charges were among the options being considered.
The spokesman said there are indications the company was not officially registered.
The BBC reports that initial tests last month found more than double the acceptable level of dioxin in the fatty acids used in animal feed, but the latest results released by Schleswig-Holstein's agriculture ministry suggested the feed contained more than 77 times the approved amount.
European Commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent said on Thursday that some eggs from affected farms in Germany had been found to contain up to five times the legal EU limit for dioxin, but said this did not pose a risk to human health.
Eggs from some farms using the feed were exported to Britain and the Netherlands for food processing, according to German and European Union authorities, but officials have said the eggs pose little health risk to consumers.
Dioxins are highly toxic compounds formed by burning waste and other industrial processes. They have been shown to affect pregnant women and contribute to higher cancer rates.