Organic farming hit by German food scandal

In Germany, about 100 organic farms are believed to have been feeding their chickens with wheat containing the banned herbicide Nitrofen. The Agriculture Ministry in Lower Saxony believes that affected meat and eggs have already been sold and consumed.

The herbicide-treated wheat was first discovered on Friday on a farm in Lower Saxony. Nitrofen is banned in the EU because it is believed to be carcinogenic. It is believed that an animal feed company from Lower Saxony sold the wheat to organic farms throughout Germany. It remains unclear how the herbicide got into the wheat. A spokesperson for the Agriculture Ministry in Brandenburg, where the wheat orginally comes from, stated that a “deliberate attempt to influence chicken farming by using Nitrofen would be a massive violation, especially in the area of organic farming.”

According to Naturland, a German association of organic producers which delivers eco-labels, Nitrofen residues had already been discovered in poultry at the end of January, and some test results were known by March. It is unclear why consumers were informed so late. The German authorities are facing harsh criticism.

Federal Agriculture Minister Renate Kýsaid that the authorities have launched investigations to find out who failed to report on the contamination. If need be, financial sanctions will be taken, she added. The Public Prosecutor will be focusing on possible violations against the law on animal feed and fraud.

Naturland chairman Gerhald Herrmann described the incident as a severe blow to organic farming. Germany’s largest organic produce association, Bioland, commented that the community’s credibility was on the line.


In the last years' organic farming has seen significantly increased interest, as modern agrochemicals and intensive farming methods have come under attack due to various food crises (such as BSE and foot-and-mouth). Germany is at the forefront of organic/green farming.

The EU passed a Regulation in 1991, which outlined in detail how crop products must be produced, processed and packaged to qualify for the description 'organic'. A provision that came into force in August 2000 also prohibited the use of genetic modification in organic production.

On 24 May 2002, the Commission published a report on the Pesticide Residue Monitoring Programme 2000. Acording to the results, 61% of the samples contained no detectable pesticide residues and 35% contained levels below the maximum safety limits. However, in the remaining 4.5% of samples the norms were exceeded.


Several Länder have started doing check ups and several Eco-farms are being closed as a precautionary measure.

In the beginning of July, the Commission is expected to make a proposal for the Mid-Term Review of the EU's Commmon Agricultural Policy.


Subscribe to our newsletters


Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.