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Thursday June 3, 2:42 pm Eastern Time

CHRONOLOGY-Key dates/events in Belgian dioxin scare

BRUSSELS, June 3 (Reuters) - Here are key dates in the scare over dioxin poisoning in Belgian chicken meat, pork and eggs.

JANUARY 18-19, 1999: A storage tank of Belgian oils and fats processing company Verkest, based near Ghent, is to found to be badly contaminated with dioxin, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Dioxin results from numerous combustion processes, has been found near industrial plants such as incinerators, and once absorbed by the body, cannot be excreted.

JANUARY 19-END JANUARY: Animal fat is contaminated when it ends up in the polluted tank; Verkest sells the fat for use in animal foodstuff.

MARCH 3-19: A Belgian farm reports ``problems'' with hens to its insurance firm, which appoints an official who also works for the State Veterinary Service as an investigator. He finds indications that processed fat could be the cause. The farm then notifies the Ministry of Agriculture.

MARCH 24: The Verkest company is investigated.

APRIL 12: Public prosecutors are told of irregularities.

APRIL 21: The investigating vet tells the Farm Ministry he suspects dioxin contamination is the source of the problem.

APRIL 26: After test results show a high level of dioxin in animal feed and chicken fat, the ministry orders new samples be taken at Verkest and three tanks are seized; 10 buyers of feed with the ``Verkest fat'' are told to halt trade; there are further tests on hens and feed, including some from pig farms.

The contaminated fat is traced to animal feed makers -- nine in Belgium, one in France and one in the Netherlands -- and the French and Dutch authorities are officially informed.

MAY 25: Officials from the Farm and Health Ministries and industry meet to discuss the issue.

MAY 26: Products of a second feed maker are found to have high levels of dioxin; the farm and health ministries place all poultry farms that have bought possibly contaminated feed under surveillance, halting trade; the health ministry begins tracing contaminated meat, the farm ministry traces contaminated eggs.

MAY 27: The situation is explained in a short press release.

MAY 28: Health Minister Marcel Colla advises retailers to remove all chicken and eggs from sale; Germany, France advise consumers not to eat Belgian-produced chicken and eggs.

MAY 30: Belgian farmers group Boerenbond estimates the cost of the scare at two billion Belgian francs ($51.44 million).

MAY 31: EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler tells reporters ``precautionary measures'' might be needed.

Russia bans imports of all Belgian poultry; Italy steps up checks on poultry and eggs from Belgium; the Netherlands advises people not to eat Belgian chicken or eggs; Poland suspends imports of Belgian chickens, chicken meat and eggs; Portugal withdraws all Belgian chicken products from the market.

JUNE 1: Belgium bans wholesalers from selling products containing eggs or chicken until after tests for dioxin; the European Commission proposes destroying food made with Belgian chickens and eggs from farms which used the contaminated feed; Health Minister Colla and Farm Minister Karel Pinxten resign.

JUNE 2: The EU agrees contaminated eggs and meat must be destroyed; Lucien Verkest and his son Jan, managers of the Verkest company, are arrested and charged with fraudulent accounting and merchandise fraud.

New Health Minister Luc Van den Bossche extends measures to protect public health to pork, saying some 500 pig-breeders, on top of over 400 poultry farmers, may have used poisonous feed; blacklisted firms must have products be removed from stores.

Britain asked businesses to check they were not using poultry or egg products from the affected farms.

JUNE 3: Belgium says beef is being tested for dioxin, bans all transport of poultry, pigs and cattle until Sunday night, and sets a general ban on slaughtering poultry, pigs and cattle. Up to 70 cattle farms could have used the suspect feed.

The European Commission orders the destruction of food from pig and cattle farms which used the suspect feed.

France looks into removing egg-based foods from sale; Sweden considers stopping imports of poultry or eggs from Belgium.

All dates and events before May 28 come from the government website at

($1=38.88 Belgian Franc)


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