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Flemish farmers say crisis costs millions of dlrs
10:06 a.m. Jun 11, 1999 Eastern

By Leslie Adler

BRUSSELS, June 11 (Reuters) - Two weeks after the onset of Belgium's dioxin-in-food crisis, the Flemish farmers union on Friday estimated the cost to its members at hundreds of millions of dollars and climbing daily.

``We estimate that (the cost is) 10 billion Belgian francs ($259.6 million) up to now,'' Roger Saenen, spokesman for the Boerenbond farmers union, told Reuters.

``For every additional day that the crisis is going on, you have to add 300 to 400 million Belgian francs,'' he said.

The Boerenbond, which has a membership of about 60,000 Flemish and German-speaking farmers, has had no contact with the government in seeking to assess the economic impact on its members, Saenen said.

The Budget Ministry could not be reached on Friday for comment on the economic impact and the government has not yet published any estimates.

Dutch-speaking Flemish farmers represent about 65 percent of Belgium's farm sector, Saenen said. German-speaking farmers represent a small percentage and French-speaking Walloon farmers in Belgium's southern region making up the balance.

A spokesman for the Alliance Agricole, representing Walloon farmers, said most of the impact on poultry farmers has been in the north, in Flanders.

The source of the dioxin contamination in animal feed has been traced to fat from the Verkest animal fats processing firm located near Ghent in Flanders. The government has yet to determine how dioxin ended up in the animal fats at Verkest.

Boerenbond's members, who are mainly family farmers, risk losing their businesses as export restrictions continue because they lack the financial resources of large enterprises. ``They don't have much cash,'' Saenen said.

In addition, their losses are not covered by insurance, with compensation typically subject to making legal claims.

``That can take a long time,'' he said. ``We'll have to ask the authorities to provide some aid to these farmers because they cannot wait six or seven years.''

Insurers will foot the cost of court actions but will not reimburse the farmers themselves for losses, Saenen said.

The European Union on Friday approved a single health certificate for Belgian meat guaranteeing it free of dioxin contamination. The single certificate, which will replace some 20 existing certificates, should allow resumption of exports of poultry, pork and beef products halted by the scare.

But 14,000 Belgian farms producing poultry, pork and beef remain on the export restriction list.

Saenen said farmers can probably survive export restrictions for another few weeks but could then face serious problems.

The Boerensyndicaat Groep, representing about 10,000 Flemish farmers, said some chicken farmers risked losing their businesses.

``For people with pigs or cows the situation is not so tough,'' spokesman Dirk Depre said.

He too warned that farmers needed compensation soon for their businesses to survive. ``They need money now, not in two years. That's too late,'' he said. ``We can save a lot of businesses if we get them money now.''

Belgium's Professional Union of Insurance Companies said it was too early to estimate the cost of the crisis for insurers.

``The government has not yet defined the scope of the possible damages,'' spokesman Francois Declippele said. ``It's much too early to make estimates.''

($1-38.52 Belgian Franc)

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication and redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.Reuters News Service
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