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From chicken to pigs, Belgium's dioxin scandal expands

Associated Press DataStream - June 03, 1999 16:04

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Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - A scandal over Belgian poultry laced with cancer-causing dioxin spread from chickens to pork and beef Thursday, engulfing most of the nation's meat industry.

The government approved new measures banning the slaughter and even transport of poultry, pork and beef across the country, worsening the biggest food scare in the 15-nation European Union since Britain's 1996 mad cow disease.

And the European Union expanded its decision to destroy Belgian poultry that may be contaminated to include pork and beef, and said it will also ban the export of such products. Nations from Greece to Ghana scrambled to keep Belgian food off supermarket shelves.

"It is another drama on top of all the tragedies we've already been through," said Roger Saenen of the Belgian Farmers Union.

The sale of poultry had already been outlawed, but Belgian Health Minister Luc Van den Bossche said the government also would "take a more stringent attitude when it comes to pork and beef."

"We needed to reinforce the measures because we thought we had the total list of suspect farms involved, but that appears not to be the case," he said.

The scandal broke last week when a television station reported that dioxin-laced fat was used to make poultry feed. Dioxin is a carcinogenic byproduct in the manufacture of some herbicides and pesticides.

Van den Bossche said 175,000 pounds of contaminated animal feed had been distributed to poultry, beef and pig farms early this year. Initial tests have shown that dioxin levels in some chickens were 1,000 times the accepted limit.

Belgian authorities were checking more than 1,000 farms to see whether animal feed containing dioxin had been used. Some 70 beef farms were quarantined Thursday, since they were on a list of farms that may have been given the contaminated animal feed.

All over Europe, Belgian products that contain more than 2 percent poultry or egg product were being destroyed.

The Dutch government said it closed 350 pig farms to conduct checks on fodder and swine suspected of contamination. Portuguese authorities seized more than 10 tons of Belgian chicken products.

In Greece, the government temporarily banned the sale of 146 tons of Belgian chicken and poultry products. Russian health authorities confiscated 20 tons of ground turkey, the NTV television station agency reported.

And as far away as Ghana, the government ordered an import ban on all chickens, eggs and pork from Belgium.

In Belgian supermarkets, a massive operation cleared all products containing even a trace of poultry or eggs from the shelves - from pork chops to egg salad, mayonnaise to ice cream.

"What is there left to eat?" headlined the daily Het Nieuwsblad.

The food scandal has forced the resignations of two Cabinet ministers. Two managers of the animal feed fat producer where the contamination is thought to have originated are under arrest on fraud charges.

In 1996, the EU Commission imposed a worldwide export ban on British beef. The move came after the British government acknowledged a possible link between a brain-destroying cattle ailment called bovine spongiform encephalopathy with an equally fatal human illness, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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