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Thursday June 3, 5:07 pm Eastern Time

FOCUS-Belgium bans livestock kill in dioxin scare

By Alistair Thomson

BRUSSELS, June 3 (Reuters) - Belgium on Thursday banned the slaughter and transport of poultry, pigs and cattle for three days in its latest move to contain the country's food safety scare linked to dioxin contamination in meat and eggs.

Health Minister Luc Van den Bossche told Belgian television the ban would last until Sunday night to give the authorities more time to draw up a full list of firms that could have bought contaminated feed and of farms that might have used it.

Slaughter of pigs had already been subject to a one-day ban on Thursday pending test results.

High levels of dioxin in chicken meat and eggs have been traced to contaminated fat, supplied by a Belgian oils and fats processing company, which were used to make animal feed.

Up to 70 cattle farms could have used suspect feed and the ministry was investigating the level of contamination, Van den Bossche said. But for the moment, there would be no restrictions on milk sales.

The transport ban does not affect moving foreign livestock via Belgium.

The European Commission said it would order the destruction of food from pig and cattle farms that used contaminated feed.

Belgium and Europe have brought in progressively tighter controls on chicken, eggs and pork sales since it became clear last week that some meat and egg samples contained high levels of dioxin.

Asked about reports that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were found in chicken meat, Van den Bossche said, ``I've been told that in this kind of contamination, dioxins and PCBs go together.''

Ghent University Professor Patrick Sandra told Belgian radio he found acutely poisonous PCBs in a sample of chicken feed and criticised the authorities for not instituting a mechanism for regular checks for the toxic chemical.

Sandra said that although PCBs, used as a cooling agent in transformers, car batteries, condensors and refrigerators, were certainly a thousand times less poisonous than dioxins, they usually appeared in higher concentrations and had a more rapid effect on living creatures.

Van den Bossche said a ban on selling poultry and related products produced during the period of possible contamination -- mid-January to the end of May -- would remain in place.

Reacting to news that pork and, possibly beef, were affected, the Belgian farmers union said damages from the dioxin poisoning scare could run in the billions of Belgian francs.

``I don't dare to guess the extent of the damages,'' spokesman Roger Saenen was quoted as saying on Belgian news agency Belga. ``It will be in the billions.''

   ($1=38.88 Belgian francs)


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