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By Michael Mann
BRUSSELS, June 4 (Reuters) - Europe must ensure the destruction of all foods potentially tainted with dioxin, an expert on toxic chemicals said on Friday as the authorities struggled to contain a growing food safety scare.
``We have to destroy all of this food,'' said Professor Alfred Bernard, specialist in industrial toxicology at the medical faculty of Belgium's Universite Catholique de Louvain.
``We must burn it all, and certainly not allow anything to be recycled, or we'll end up with contamination staying in the food chain,'' he told Reuters by telephone.
Bernard said he was concerned that the contaminated food could also contain quantities of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a heavily restricted group of chlorine-based chemicals.
The European Commission said this week it will ban the sale of chicken, pork, beef and dairy products sourced to around 1,000 Belgian farms after Belgium admitted that animal feed contaminated with dioxin had been widely distributed.
The United States, dissatisfied with EU measures, said that all imports of EU chicken and pork would be temporarily halted as a precautionary measure.
Heavy exposure to dioxin has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, hormonal damage and behavioural changes, Bernard said.
Belgian Health Minister Luc Van den Bossche said on Thursday that one chicken tested for the chemical contained 535 picograms per gram of fat. That was more than 100 times the legal limit set recently by the Belgian government for milk following an earlier dioxin scare, Bernard said.
Tests on pork had so far shown no significant levels of dioxin, although Van den Bossche said further sampling would be necessary to give reliable figures.
Dioxins are a by-product of a number of industrial processes. Once they enter the human body, they remain in the system long term and any ill-effects would take years to develop.
Environmental groups warned European lawmakers that the Belgian food scare was more than an isolated incident.
``This sort of pollution is a societal problem, not just one case which we can deal with and then forget about,'' said Axel Singhofen of environmental group Greenpeace.
But Bernard cautioned against public panic.
``Of course we have to be careful and stop human exposure to these compounds,'' he said. "But people shouldn't be afraid.
``By eating some eggs or a contaminated chicken, you could easily absorb 50 to 100 times the acceptable daily dosage. Having said that, you'd have to eat about 50 contaminated chickens to double your body's dioxin levels,'' he added.
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