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Sunday, June 13, 1999


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WHO says in ``gray zone'' over Belgian food scare
01:27 p.m Jun 11, 1999 Eastern

GENEVA, June 11 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation added its voice on Friday to the chorus of warnings over Belgian food contaminated with toxic chemical dioxin, urging consumer prudence over certain types of food with high fat content.

But the Geneva-based United Nations health agency admitted that it was unable to assess the full extent of the crisis due to lack of information and research capability.

``We're really in a gray zone,'' WHO chemical safety expert Maged Younes told a news briefing in Geneva.

The discovery of high levels of cancer-causing dioxins in Belgian poultry and eggs two weeks ago has caused a food scare across Western Europe and led some 30 countries to pull suspect Belgain meat and dairy products from shelves over fears of contamination.

The European Commission has slapped restrictions on Belgian chicken and eggs and this week widened them to order the removal from sale of pork, beef and milk products that might be tainted by dioxin.

The WHO said it had not been informed by the Belgian authorities on what might have caused the contamination.

``We don't have any information on the levels and extent of the actual contamination,'' WHO food safety expert Gerry Moy told the same news conference.

``The analysis of these types of chemicals, besides being expensive, requires specialised laboratory equipment. Few laboratories currently have this capability. Consequently the analytical data is generated very slowly. I don't think at the present time we have representative values for the exposure.''

Moy said WHO had advised governments to ``identify and detain food products from Belgium and other sources that they think are possibly contaminated.

``Our advise would be to err on the side of caution. When we know the facts, we can do a full health risk assessment,'' he said.

Jenny Pronczuk, a chemical safety expert at the WHO, said member countries were worried about food products that come from the European Union such as chocolate, powdered milk and chicken nuggets.

Because dioxin is fat-soluble and accumulates in fat tissues, the experts said the WHO was advising consumers not to eat too much of food products that contain substantial amount of fat such as dairy products and meat with high fat content.

The WHO recommends a tolerable daily dose of dioxins equavalent to a range of one to four picogrammes per body weight kilo. One picogramme is one-trillionth of a gramme.

Based on an average European diet, the increase from eating a single egg would contribute about a 1.4-percent additional level of dioxin to the total body weight, said the WHO.

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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