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Belgian farmers ordered to hold off on chicken slaughter

Associated Press DataStream - June 10, 1999 06:36

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Eds: ADDS new final graf to UPDATE with ambassadors saying Asian nations have overreacted to scandal. TRIMS. No pickup. Also on general news wires.

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Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Two weeks after the dioxin food scandal broke, Belgium is still struggling to pinpoint which farms could have been affected by the cancer-causing chemical.

The European Union has sealed its borders to most Belgian meat and byproducts, and many other nations have followed in the biggest food scare since the 1996 "mad cow" crisis.

The food crisis began with the discovery that large amounts of animal feed had been tainted.

What was supposed to be a turning point in the crisis turned into more chaos Wednesday, when the government list of supposedly safe poultry firms turned out to be incomplete. Slaughterhouses, which opened for the first time in days, were ordered closed again, dampening hopes that exports could resume within the coming days.

"We won't have local chickens on our shelves," said Carine Segers of the GB supermarket chain. Slaughterhouses were expected to open again today.

The government had also promised to bring all safe pork and beef back on the market today, but that appeared increasingly remote. Another crisis meeting was planned.

The confusion over the government's lists of certified dioxin-free farms continued to baffle the 15-nation European Union. 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."

He also said other EU nations will increasingly turn against Belgium because bans around the world have often been extended to all 15 nations.

"You can well imagine that other EU farmers are getting really angry," Van Miert said.

Belgian and EU meat and dairy products are off limits in nations across the globe, costing the food and farm sector an estimated $850 million in lost markets.

Financial institutions said Belgium's Gross Domestic Product will suffer by up to 0.5 percent.

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

Farm Minister Herman Van Rompuy said additional Commission demands had slowed down the completion of lists of suspected pig and cattle farms. "It is difficult," said Van Rompuy. "We have to be careful and prudent."

In Bangkok, Thailand, the ambassadors of Belgium and the European Union said Asian nations have overreacted to the scandal, and they ate Belgian chocolates at a news conference today to demonstrate the fears were inflated. The ambassadors urged the quick lifting of a series of bans imposed on Belgian and European products in Asia.

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