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AFP, June 10, 1999

Asian countries over-reacting to dioxin scare: European officials

BANGKOK, June 10 (AFP) - European officials Thursday accused Asian countries of "over-reacting" to Belgium's dioxin contamination scare, as China became the latest nation in the region to restrict the import and sale of European food imports.

Head of the European Union's (EU) Southeast Asia delegation Michel Caillouet called for the lifting of bans on food imports, saying there was no evidence of poisoning in worldwide food exports.

"To date, the (European) Commission has found no evidence of contaminated products entering any country outside the EU," Caillouet told reporters at a press conference.

"If we have no evidence, we hope the ban on some European products will be lifted very quickly."

Singling out Malaysia, he said some countries were "over-reacting" to reports of high levels of potentially cancer-causing dioxins in a range of food products from EU-member Belgium.

"Why ban all EU (food) products in Malaysia? This is something I do not understand," he added.

Caillouet said the dioxin problem had been isolated to one animal feed producer in Belgium and and brought under control.

Bans accross Asia and world-wide have been slapped on some Belgian and EU food exports since the weekend and many countries are demanding proof, including certification from the World Health Organisation, of the products' safety before again allowing them.

China on Thursday joined a growing list of Asian countries which have imposed the restrictions on Belgian -- and sometimes European -- food imports, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The Chinese move followed Malaysia's decision Monday to temporarily slap bans on imports of all European meat, eggs and dairy products.

"Imports of chicken and dairy products from Belgian, France, Germany and the Netherlands and produced after January 15 will be temporarily banned," an urgent Chinese health ministry circular said.

"Products from these countries already in China will be recalled from sale."

The circular said the measure had been taken for health reasons and out of fear of dioxin contamination in the products.

Belgian ambassador to Thailand Cristina Funes-Noppen apologised for the dioxin scare but said it was primarily a European problem, and that Thailand's banning of foods, including chocolates, was damaging to the Belgian economy.

Belgium has come under fire for being too slow in handling the dioxin scare, which has set off fears of multi-million-dollar losses for Europe's farm industry.

"I insist on the point there is no evidence and no information that food contaminated has been sent to third countries," the ambassador said at a Bangkok press conference.

"It is a European problem most of all.

"I am not trying to undermine or minimise the importance of dioxin in food ... but it is very important to put it in perspective. But for the moment I must say there is over-reaction."

Funes-Noppen produced a box of Belgian chocolates and ate one in front of television cameras before offering them to journalists.

She complained some supermarkets in Thailand were going as far as to take Belgian products such as mosquito repellent off their shelves. Thai food inspectors began removing Belgian chocolates, butter and dairy products from supermarkets Wednesday.

The bans followed the discovery last month that Belgian chickens had high levels of the poisonous and potentially carcinogenic chemical dioxin as a result of contaminated animal feed.

The dioxin scare has spread to pigs and cattle, affecting hundreds of farms across Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

Copyright © 1999. Agence France-Presse
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