Toxic German eggs enter food chain in Britain

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The Independent Online

British shoppers bought cakes and quiches made with eggs at the centre of a health scandal in Germany, food safety officials confirmed last night.

As agriculture officials shut 4,709 chicken and pig farms across Germany in response to the contamination of animal feed with dioxins, Morrisons and Tesco were checking shelves to remove affected products. Most would have been eaten by now, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said.

Dioxins, a group of highly toxic, chemically-related compounds, can cause cancer and damage to immune systems when consumed at high levels for long periods. Although one sample suggested the eggs contained 77 times the legal limit, the FSA said it was still too low to damage health.

Morrisons said it had withdrawn a small number of products as a "precautionary measure to give customers full confidence". Tesco said: "We would like to stress to customers that this is a purely precautionary measure and the FSA has stated there is no food safety risk." Eight of its own-brand cakes are affected including raspberry and chocolate sponges and a children's caterpillar cake with sell-by dates for the first two weeks of January.

The alert began late last month when German officials discovered thousands of tonnes of animal feed contaminated with fat intended for industrial use had been sent to more than 1,000 poultry and pig farms. A 14-tonne load of pasteurised eggs was exported to the UK in December, and bought by two manufacturers, Kensey Foods in Cornwall and Memory Lane Cakes in Cardiff. They mixed the contaminated eggs with other eggs to create liquid egg, which was put into cakes and quiches.

The FSA said: "The majority of products will have been sold and most have passed their 'use by' or 'best before' dates. In light of this information, some supermarkets are choosing to voluntarily remove the small amount of products that are still in date."

German company Harles and Jentzsch supplied the feed containing 3,000 tonnes of fatty acids intended for industrial use. Germany's agriculture ministry said the firm had been aware of the levels of dioxin in its fat since last March but had failed to address the problem. "The fat should never have been sold," said a spokesman.

State prosecutors have launched an investigation amid suspicions that the company deliberately used the low-quality fat to maximise profits, which it denies. Managing director Siegfried Sievers insisted the contamination had was an accident. Germany's Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner said: "The idea that this was all a mistake is simply not credible."

She called for stricter European Union-wide regulations on animal feed to protect consumers. The British Egg Products Association said it was "extremely concerned" about the impact of the contamination on the industry.

Here is a breakdown of the potentially affected products, removed from the shelves in UK supermarkets:

:: Tesco

Tesco Caterpillar Cake - Best Before 10/01/11

Tesco Coconut Sponge 5.5" - Best Before 15/01/11

Tesco Raspberry Sponge 5.5"- Best Before 07/01/11

Tesco Value Raspberry Sponge 5.5" - Best Before 13/01/11, 15/01/11

Tesco Vanilla Party Tray Bake - Best Before 11/01/11

Tesco Christmas Chocolate Tray Bake - Best Before 07/01/11

Tesco Chocolate Sponge Cake - Best Before 10/01/11, 15/01/11

Tesco Victoria Sponge Cake - Best Before 12/01/11, 13/01/11, 15/01/11

:: Morrisons

Morrisons Caterpillar Cake - Best Before 18 JAN

Morrisons Chocolate Tray Bake - Best Before 10 JAN

Morrisons Mini Roll Bites (Cakeshop) - Best Before 10 JAN, 17 JAN, 20 JAN

Morrisons Victoria Sponge Sandwich Cake - Best Before 13 JAN, 15 JAN, 18 JAN, 19 JAN, 25 JAN

Morrisons Vanilla Tray Bake - Best Before 11 JAN, 26 JAN

Morrisons Value Raspberry Sponge - Best Before 12 JAN, 17 JAN, 20 JAN