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Belgian government lists farms affected by dioxin

Associated Press DataStream - June 10, 1999 07:27

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Eds: Leads throughout to UPDATE with prime minister comments, slaughterhouses open again, farmers' protest. No pickup. Also moving on general wires.

AP Photos planned


Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The Belgian government today listed farms that could have been affected by the cancer-causing chemical dioxin, a big step in putting local meat back in stores two weeks after the start of the biggest food scare since the 1996 mad cow crisis.

The European Union kept its borders closed to most Belgian meat and byproducts, and many other nations followed suit, even extending such measures to other EU countries.

Following a night of crisis negotiations, the Belgian government completed a list of poultry farms that might have been contaminated, freeing other farms to market their safe chicken. Early today, long lines of trucks carrying chickens lined up outside slaughterhouses.

In addition to poultry, pork and beef certified as safe was to be brought onto the market as of Friday.

"The government decided that a large part of the beef and pork sector will be freed for domestic consumption and export," said Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene. He said 17 percent of beef farms, 40 percent of pork companies and almost half the poultry firms remained off limits.

Twelve days ago, the government ordered stores to take chickens and eggs off the shelves after the discovery that large amounts of animal feed had been tainted. The ban then grew to include pork and cattle products.

Today, dozens of angry farmers blocked the border crossing with France, trying to keep out imports of French meat.

On Wednesday, the government list of safe poultry firms turned out to be incomplete. Slaughterhouses, which had opened for the first time in days, were ordered closed again.

The EU's Executive Commission also wanted Belgium to get all dairy products off the shelves, a measure Belgium has steadfastly refused.

"The Commission cannot give the green light (to exports) unless it is absolutely sure everything is safe," said EU Fair Trade Commissioner Karel Van Miert. He said the Commission insisted on a blanket ban "because there is uncertainty about dairy goods."

Dehaene said the dairy sector will join the government in "trying to obtain a change in the EU position based on lab tests."

Belgium had said milk and most other dairy products could not be sufficiently tainted with dioxin to be a health hazard.

The dairy industry secured a court injunction forcing the government to pay the sector $25 million a day to compensate for losses suffered because of the lack of a certified list of dioxin-free firms.

Even if chicken and other Belgian products make it back into the market, it is unclear whether Belgians, or anyone else, will eat the food.

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