Germany lifts dioxin-related bans on 3,050 farms

German agricultural officials lifted a sales ban Monday for 3,050 of the farms closed after livestock feed was tainted with dioxin and met with feed producers to find the source of the contamination.

"The situation has eased ... but there can't be an all-clear yet," Agriculture Ministry spokesman Holger Eichele said Monday, adding that 1,635 farms were still closed.

Almost 500 dairy farms were also again being allowed to sell their products, and Slovakia has lifted a ban on German farm products, Eichele said.

The scandal broke last week when German investigators found excessive levels of dioxin in eggs and a few samples of chicken meat. Authorities then froze sales of poultry, pork and eggs from more than 4,700 farms as a precaution.

South Korea banned the sale of some German farm products, and supermarkets in Britain withdrew quiches and cakes made with German eggs from their shelves.

Dioxins are contaminants that often result from industrial combustion, and exposure to them at high levels is linked to an increased incidence of cancer.

Investigators are probing the German firm Harles & Jentzsch GmbH, which had produced fat used in the tainted feed pellets. Samples of the fat contained more than 70 times the approved amount of dioxin, according to tests published Saturday by the Schleswig-Holstein state agriculture ministry.

Consumer protection pressure group Foodwatch said Monday its own tests of a contaminated sample was 164 times over the legally tolerated dioxin level.

It concluded that the dioxin must result from pesticide use on crops that were later used to produce the fat and urged the government to force livestock feed producers to probe all their ingredients for excessive dioxin levels.

Eichele declined to comment on Foodwatch's report, saying that federal and state authorities were currently examining the origin of the dioxin.

Agriculture Minister Isle Aigner on Sunday vowed tough legal action against those responsible for contaminating the livestock feed.

"The judiciary has to clamp down hard here," she told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.