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Thursday June 3, 5:32 pm Eastern Time

FOCUS-Belgian food scare extends to pork and beef

(Adds EU decision on beef and pork)

By Michael Mann

BRUSSELS, June 3 (Reuters) - Europe's latest food scare escalated on Thursday as the European Union said it would order the destruction of pork and cattle products from farms that used Belgian feed tainted with cancer-causing dioxin.

As the ripples spread from Europe's worst food crisis since Britain's ``mad cow disease'' scandal, Belgium banned the transport of poultry, pigs and cattle while it checked which livestock farms received the poisonous feed.

The crisis broke last Friday when it emerged that chickens on about 400 Belgian farms had been given feed contaminated with the highly toxic chemical, rocking Prime Minister's Jean Luc Dehaene's government two weeks before an election and prompting the resignation of Belgium's farm and health ministers.

Countries all over Europe acted to quell consumer panic as French Farm Minister Jean Glavany spoke of ``a grave crisis of food security.''

The spreading crisis alarmed Belgians as more food products became off-limits.

``The dioxin chicken crisis degenerates into a pork crisis,'' the Belgian daily Le Soir cried on Thursday.

Major Belgian supermarkets had already swept their shelves clear of chicken and egg products on Thursday -- including fresh pasta, mayonnaise and cakes -- when it became clear that the problem extended to both pork and beef, and possibly even milk.

Public confidence in food safety, already hit by recent scares over ``mad cow'' disease, hormones in beef, swine fever and antibiotics in pork, took a further pounding with Belgium's admission that the tainted feed had been sold more widely than originally thought and even exported.

The EU's latest plan, which will be rubber stamped on Friday, applies to some 500 pig farms and around 70 cattle farms identified by the Belgian authorities, in addition to more than 400 poultry units already targeted.

All food made from meat and eggs originating on these farms since January 15 will have to be traced, removed from sale and destroyed. An EU official would not rule out that even dairy products could be affected.

Belgian exporters will have to produce a certificate guaranteeing their products are free from contamination.

Acting EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler called for greater coordination of food safety across the 15-member bloc.

``We can only act when the problem has already arisen,'' he told German ZDF television. ``It cannot be that 15 standards apply across Europe.''

The managers of the Verkest fats and oils company at the centre of the storm have been charged with labeling and accounting fraud. The firm is believed to have supplied animal feed makers with a tainted product, although exactly how the dioxin contamination occurred is still under investigation.

Even before news broke that pork and beef could be affected, France, which has already quarantined 70 poultry farms, and begun withdrawing chicken and eggs, set up a committee to look into removing potentially risky egg-based foods from sale.

``It's more complicated than with chicken. It's a long chain, We are going to bring in precautionary measures, but we know it will take a long process to take these products out of the market,'' a farm ministry official said.

Sweden said it might stop imports of any contaminated poultry or eggs from Belgium. And Britain asked businesses to check that they were not using poultry or egg products from the affected farms.


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