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  GO > News > POLL-Belgian voters to punish govt over food scare
Sunday, June 13, 1999


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POLL-Belgian voters to punish govt over food scare
07:41 a.m. Jun 12, 1999 Eastern

By Nieck Ammerlaan

BRUSSELS, June 12 (Reuters) - Belgium's centre-left coalition looks set to lose heavily in Sunday's general elections as a result of the dioxin-in-food crisis, with environmentalists the main gainers, a poll published on Saturday showed.

According to the telephone poll of 1,000 Dutch-speaking Belgians by researchers Dimarso for newspaper De Financieel Economische Tijd (FET) and broadcaster VRT, support for the two Flemish government parties would slide dramatically.

Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene's Christian-democrat CVP would poll 24.4 percent of the vote, down from 27.3 percent in the 1995 elections, while the socialist SP would attract 12.9 percent, down from 19.8 percent four years ago.

The VLD liberals, widely tipped to enter government after Sunday's elections, would get 23.0 percent of the vote, up from 21.1 percent in 1995, but the Agalev green party would be the largest gainer with 15.7 percent, up from 7.4 percent.

That would make it the third largest party in Flanders, overtaking the socialists, and could give it a clear claim to a place in the new government.

The FET noted the poll did not reflect voting intentions in the French-speaking half of the country where 3.3 million people live and which is home to the other two partners in government -- the Christian-democrat PSC and the socialist PS.

Almost 20 percent of those polled were undecided.

If the outcome of the Dimarso poll is confirmed on Sunday, the swing to the environmentalists would mark a condemnation of the government's handling of the scare over dioxin, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer.

Two weeks ago it emerged high levels of dioxin had been found in chicken and eggs, which had become tainted through polluted fats used in animal feed.

Two ministers quit over the scandal, which widened to beef, pork, their high fat by-products and butter, once it became clear their ministries had known about the dioxin find for weeks without alerting the public or European authorities.

The resulting food scare led some 30 countries to curb trade in meat and meat products, eggs, and even milk, dairy products and chocolates not just from Belgium, but also from France and the Netherlands, where the dioxin-tainted feed was also used.

Some countries including the United States banned selected products from the whole of the EU to protect consumers.

Fallout from the crisis, which brought Belgium's billion-dollar meat industry to a standstill for days and dented the country's image as a quality food producer, has been predicted to stretch beyond the economy into politics.

Dehaene halted campaigning to take charge personally of the crisis and restore consumer and voter confidence.

He has said he would understand if the electorate punished the government for its approach to the crisis.

Between a quarter and half of Belgians polled have said the scandal, in which store shelves were stripped of chicken, eggs, beef, pork and butter for a week, would influence the way they vote, making Sunday's elections the most unpredictable test of public opinion in years.

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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