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Reuters, June 12, 1999

Dioxin Contamination Fears Cross To Netherlands

By Philip Blenkinsop

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Food contamination fears gripped the Netherlands Saturday after the agriculture ministry said Dutch livestock may have eaten feed containing the highly toxic dioxin.

``Our livestock also ate suspect feed too,'' blared the front page of the top-selling daily De Telegraaf Saturday.

The dioxin-in-food scare first came to light in Belgium and has ballooned into Europe's worst food scandal since the mad cow crisis.

Dioxin can cause cancer, even at low levels over time.

Dutch supermarkets are saying they face significant financial damage from the withdrawal of suspect produce and say they are planning to seek compensation from their suppliers. Leading supermarket Albert Heijn is already talking of damage running into millions of guilders.

In a letter to parliament late Friday, Junior Agriculture Minister Geesje Faber and Health Minister Els Borst said eight farms and a feed producer had used or mixed feed containing material from ``at-risk'' Belgian suppliers.

The ministers pointed to four dairy and four beef farms which may have received contaminated Belgian feed and have launched investigations and ordered product recalls.

In the case of milk now consumed, the ministers said they believed the risk to the public would be limited because of watering down with other ``safe'' milk.

The letter also identified a Dutch factory of Belgian feed producer Rendac which had mixed the slaughter waste from Belgian chickens into feed for Dutch farms until the end of May.

The ministry said tests had shown no raised levels of PCBs or dioxin in the period January to May. However, Rendac had painted a ``worst case scenario'' in which dioxin levels might be higher than normal in their fat feed.

An agriculture ministry spokesman Saturday played down the concerns for public health.

``It seems highly unlikely that there's any risk,'' he said.

A ban on certain pig and poultry farms is also set to be lifted following findings from the Dutch veterinary commission.

However, the ministries' reassurances have not convinced the Dutch media and the public.

The Dutch meat and dairy industry already faces bans from a number of countries such as Brazil, China, South Korea and Thailand and is included in a general EU ban imposed by the U.S.

Meanwhile, the price of fish is rising substantially.

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