EU Acts to Prevent Dioxin Contamination of Food, Feed

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 23, 2011 (ENS) – European consumers and industry will get increased protection against dioxin contamination if a draft regulation governing the handling of crude vegetable oils is approved by the European Commission.

The measure was endorsed Friday by the member states at the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. It will now be sent to the European Parliament and Council for scrutiny before the Commission can officially approve it. The regulation is expected to enter into force in mid-2012.

The regulation is a response to the dioxide crisis last December and January that shut down meat and egg sales from 4,700 farms across Germany after animal feed was found to be contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical.

Meat in a German market (Photo by Kimberly)

About 136,000 metric tonnes of feed for poultry and swine containing industrial fat was fed to livestock across Germany. The fat contained industrial dioxins and should not have been in the animals’ feed.

A batch of fatty acids meant to be used for technical purposes got mixed with fat for the production of animal feed. Fatty acids produced in a biodiesel company and delivered to a feed-fat producing company contained higher levels of dioxin than allowed by EU law.

Following investigations, German authorities found that another seven suspected batches of fatty acids from the same biodiesel company were delivered to the feed fat company. The contaminated feed fat was delivered to 25 compound feed manufacturers in Germany, but there were no deliveries of contaminated feed fat outside Germany.

Compound feed produced with the contaminated feed fat was delivered to laying hen, fattening poultry, pig, dairy cattle and bovine farms, mainly in Germany. A few batches of feed for breeding poultry was sent to Denmark and France. The contaminated feed sent to Denmark was fed to breeder hens that did not enter the food chain. The compound feed sent to France was compliant with EU legislation.

Worried Germans protest dioxin contamination of food, January 22, 2011 (Photo by Jakob Huber)

The draft regulation approved Friday contains four measures to be implemented throughout the EU by mid-2012 to reduce the risk of contamination in the food chain. These measures are aimed at avoiding food recalls from the market and financial costs to consumers and industries.

EU Health and Consumer Commissioner John Dalli welcomed the support of the member states for the Commission’s proposal. “The decision taken today is the EU’s response to last winter’s dioxin crisis. We had promised to act and the implementation of what was adopted today will result in additional security along the food and feed chain. It will further contribute to our already solid food safety system in the EU.”

The four measures contained in the draft regulation adopted Friday by the Standing Committee, are based on the outcome of the Commission’s investigation of the dioxide incident.

EU Health and Consumer Commissioner John Dalli (Photo courtesy European Parliament)

First, feed businesses processing crude vegetable oils, manufacturing products derived from oils of vegetable origin and blending fats, will have to be approved, and not only registered, by the competent authority.

Fats intended for feed and food will be strictly segregated during their production and transport from fats intended for technical use in the chemical industry. The labels on the products must explicitly mention their intended use to help prevent products unfit for feed from entering the food chain.

An EU harmonized plan with mandatory minimum testing for dioxin depending on the risk inherent to the products, will be introduced. The testing will focus on the risky products at the moment they enter the feed chain to facilitate the detection of non-compliant cases and the enforcement of feed law.

Finally, all laboratories are obliged to directly notify the competent authorities of any excessive findings of dioxins.

The adoption of these measures was preceded by intense negotiations with industry, including farmers, and the competent authorities in the member states.

Although industry will have to bear some addition costs under the new regulation, annual costs will amount to just a small percentage of the costs of one dioxin incident.

Maximum levels for dioxins across the European Union were established in 2001 in feed and food of animal origin. They have been in force since January 1, 2002.

These maximum levels were complemented in 2006 with maximum levels for the sum of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in feed and food.

The Animal By-products Regulation, adopted in 2002, requires that animal by-products contaminated with dioxins, including animals and products of animal origin, are destroyed so that they cannot end up in the feed chain.

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