Egg-eaters in the U.S. have had to worry about salmonella poisoning the golden yokes, but Europe is now dealing with eggs tainted with dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known.
And pork, turkey and chicken meat may also be contaminated, say European food safety inspectors.
Government food detectives in Britain’s Food Standards Agency reported Friday that tens of thousands of dioxin-contaminated eggs from Germany were shipped to the Netherlands.
There, the eggs were subsequently mixed with non-contaminated eggs to produce a pasteurized liquid egg product used widely by the food industry for cakes, cookies, pastries and other popular baked goods sold throughout Europe.
The levels of dioxin detected by inspectors were reportedly 78 times greater than the accepted European legal safety limits, yet not high enough to cause death or illness in the short term, authorities said. Nevertheless, thousands of baked sweets, soufflés, quiches and other products using the tainted eggs have been pulled off shelves and out of coolers throughout the United Kingdom.
The international contamination originated in Germany when dioxin-tainted oils intended for use in bio-fuels were sold to 25 major animal feed producers who packaged and sold the now dioxin-laced food to thousands of pig and poultry farms.
The German government says nearly 5,000 chicken farms have been shut down and more than 11,000 chickens have already been destroyed to protect the food chain.
The German agriculture minister was quoted as saying the contamination “points to a high level of illegal activity.’’
The food safety section of the European Commission reported Sunday that some samples of chicken, pork, turkey and duck that it tested showed the presence of dioxin.
Many industry and government officials say the risk to humans is small because the manufacturers reportedly notified all players of the contamination and the products were pulled off the market. British food safety officials said they believed that Brits were exposed to the chemical-containing products for three or fewer weeks.
However, European health agents announced Sunday that new information from the offending plants revealed high levels of dioxin from the German blunder have been present in food products since March.
Slow to harm
Last August, more than 1,200 people across the U.S. were sickened and a half-billion contaminated eggs were recalled because of the salmonella contaminating Iowa farms.
The most common symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever which hit eight to 48 hours after eating contaminated eggs.
With dioxin, there are rarely acute manifestation of illness.
The British Food Security Agency says the health risk from dioxin comes from repeatedly eating food with high levels of the chemical brew, which it says has been “shown to cause a wide range of effects in certain animals, including cancer and damage to the immune and reproductive systems. ‘’ The agency was created to protect the public’s health and consumer interests in relation to food.
Toxicologists say that dioxin and its family of chemicals are among the top 10 or 12 most persistent concoctions developed by man and accumulate in the body over long periods. Physicians worry that even small doses can eventually do harm, and pregnant women are thought to be at particular risk.
Dioxin was the killer ingredient in Agent Orange during the rampant spraying of the Vietnamese jungle during the 1960s and 1970s. Thousands of civilians and soldiers on all sides suffered a multitude of health problems and birth defects from exposure to the chemical.
The World Health Organization says dioxin is found throughout the globe and more than 90 percent of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish.
Dioxin is an unwanted by-product of a wide range of manufacturing processes including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides.