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Key dates/events in Belgian dioxin scare

JANUARY 18-19, 1999:A storage tank of Belgian oils and fats processing company Verkest, based near Ghent, is to found to be badly contaminated with dioxin, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Dioxin results from numerous combustion processes, has been found near industrial plants such as incinerators, and once absorbed by the body, cannot be excreted.

JANUARY 19-END JANUARY: Animal fat is contaminated when it ends up in the polluted tank; Verkest sells the fat for use in animal foodstuff.

MARCH 3-19: A Belgian farm reports "problems'' with hens to its insurance firm, which appoints an official who also works for the state veterinary service as an investigator. He finds indications that processed fat could be the cause. The farm then notifies the Ministry of Agriculture.

MARCH 24: The Verkest company is investigated.

APRIL 12: Public prosecutors are told of irregularities.

APRIL 21: The investigating vet tells the Farm Ministry he suspects dioxin contamination is the source of the problem.

APRIL 26: After test results show a high level of dioxin in animal feed and chicken fat, the Ministry orders new samples be taken at verkest and three tanks are seized; 10 buyers of feed with the "Verkest fat'' are told to halt trade; there are further tests on hens and feed, including some from pig farms.

The contaminated fat is traced to animal feed makers -- nine in Belgium, one in France and one in the Netherlands -- and the French and Dutch authorities are officially informed.

MAY 25: Officials from the Farm and Health Ministries and industry meet to discuss the issue.

MAY 26: Products of a second feed maker are found to have high levels of dioxin; the Farm and Health Ministries place all poultry farms that have bought possibly contaminated feed under surveillance, halting trade; the health ministry begins tracing contaminated meat, the Farm Ministry traces contaminated eggs.

MAY 27: The situation is explained in a short press release.

MAY 28: Health Minister Marcel Colla advises retailers to remove all chicken and eggs from sale; Germany, France advise consumers not to eat Belgian-produced chicken and eggs.

MAY 30: Belgian farmers group Boerenbond estimates the cost of the scare at two billion Belgian francs (US$51.44 million, US$1=38.88 belgian franc).

MAY 31: EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler tells reporters "precautionary measures'' might be needed.

Russia bans imports of all Belgian poultry; Italy steps up checks on poultry and eggs from Belgium; the Netherlands advises people not to eat Belgian chicken or eggs; Poland suspends imports of Belgian chickens, chicken meat and eggs; Portugal withdraws all Belgian chicken products from the market.

JUNE 1: Belgium bans wholesalers from selling products containing eggs or chicken until after tests for dioxin; the European Commission proposes destroying food made with Belgian chickens and eggs from farms which used the contaminated feed; Health Minister Colla and Farm Minister Karel Pinxten resign.

JUNE 2: The EU agrees contaminated eggs and meat must be destroyed; Lucien Verkest and his son Jan, managers of the Verkest company, are arrested and charged with fraudulent accounting and merchandise fraud.

New Belgian Health Minister Luc Van den Bossche extends measures to protect public health to pork, saying some 500 pig-breeders, on top of over 400 poultry farmers, may have used poisonous feed; blacklisted firms must have products be removed from stores.

Britain asked businesses to check they were not using poultry or egg products from the affected farms.

JUNE 3: Belgium says beef is being tested for dioxin, bans all transport of poultry, pigs and cattle until Sunday night, and sets a general ban on slaughtering poultry, pigs and cattle. Up to 70 cattle farms could have used the suspect feed.

The European Commission orders the destruction of food from pig and cattle farms which used the suspect feed.

France looks into removing egg-based foods from sale; Sweden considers stopping imports of poultry or eggs from Belgium.

KFC UK stops its small Belgian chicken imports

The United States will block imports of poultry and pork from the European Union.

JUNE 4: Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene says there is "no general contamination" of meat after nine hour marathon meeting and said tests on pork and beef had found "no effective presence of dioxins." However, pork and beef products from suspect farms would be gradually removed from sale.

Cyprus blocks animal feed cargoes. Dutch slap import ban on Belgian meat, livestock

Professor Alfred Bernard, specialist in industrial toxicology says Europe must ensure the destruction of all foods potentially tainted with dioxin, or end up with contamination staying in the food chain.

Greenpeace said dioxins did not just enter the food chain directly, through contaminated feed, but also indirectly via air, water and soil pollution.

Hong Kong withdraws EU pork, poultry products from shelves. Italy bans Belgian pigs, pork and pork products. Portugal bans Belgian livestock, products.

JUNE 5: Britain has banned all imports of Belgian beef, pork, chicken and eggs products and ordered butchers, food manufacturers and supermarkets to destroy existing stocks.

JUNE 6: Belgian Health Minister says Belgium lacks controls to keep dioxin out of food.

Singapore Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang advises not to buy or eat European meat, eggs and dairy products, or anything made with them. Supermarkets remove EU products from shelves including milk brands Enfalac, Enfapro, Lactogen, Nan,S-26, Frisomel, Frisolac H and Mamex.

JUNE 7: The Belgian government added butter to its list of banned foods.

Bulgaria has banned imports of fodder, meat and dairy and poultry products from Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Dutch Agriculture Minister Hayo Apotheker quits. He faced strong opposition criticism for failing to respond swiftly to a dioxin scare. He added he could not continue without support for his proposals to reform the pig sector.

Belgium now says some 1,400 farms may have used contaminated feed; losses to Belgium's food industry are seen running to at least 20 billion Belgian francs ($510 million).

Malaysia orders recall of all meat, eggs, dairy products and infant formula produced in the EU. Health Minister Chua Jui Meng bans entry of all canned meats and dairy products from EU until importers could certify their products dioxin-free.

JUNE 8: Belgium's Budget and Farm Minister says the crisis will hit the 1999 and 2000 budgets; samples at three animal feed firms test positive for dioxin; Belgium says the poultry slaughter ban could be lifted from June 9.

JUNE 9:Belgium almost doubles the list of suspect poultry farms, raising the number to 1,560 after it emerges tainted feed was used more widely than thought; chicken slaughter is interrupted, then resumed.

EU says Belgium is not respecting its decision to withdraw all food products from sale that may be tainted with dioxin.

Belgium Embassy assures Malaysian consumers they are at minimal risk as few products are being exported here.

Malaysian Health Ministry issues a list of food products that may be contaminated.

JUNE 10:Belgium allows the slaughter from non-blacklisted farms to resume on most pork and beef farms from midnight.

Angry farmers and butchers block Belgium's borders with France and the Netherlands to protest the ban on exports.

Celia Dehaene, wife of the Belgian prime minister, in a newspaper interview, calls the crisis " frame-up'' of the government and says she has not changed her eating habits.

Dutch feed industry officials rejected as nonsense a French government report that said residue from septic tanks and sludge from waste treatment factories were routinely used in European animal feed manufacturing.

China's Ministry of Health bans imports of livestock and dairy products from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

Head of the European Union's (EU) Southeast Asia delegation Michel Caillouet called for the lifting of bans on food imports, saying there was no evidence of poisoning in worldwide food exports.Singling out Malaysia, he said some Asian countries were "over-reacting".

Belgian government lists poultry farms that might have been contaminated, freeing other farms to market their safe chicken.

Health Minister Chua Jui Meng said that importers, manufacturers or distributors would have to get the certificate from the countries of origin to prove that they were dioxin-free.

Belgian Embassy says the suspected dioxin contamination occurred during between Jan 19 and 31. Only three companies had so far been positively identified as the sources of contamination.

Nestle Malaysia said it will temporarily withdraw its products from EU manufactured after Jan 1 following a ban announced by the Health Ministry

JUNE 11 European Union Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler said member state veterinarians had approved a single health certificate for Belgian meat, guaranteeing it free of dioxin contamination.

British pig farmers blockaded one of the country's biggest ports to protest at imports of meat they claimed could be contaminated with dioxin. But some angry truckers used their trucks to break through part of the blockade.

US in a second step blocks imports of eggs and egg-containing products from France, Belgium and the Netherlands but approves imports of Parma hams from Italy and Serrano hams from Spain.

WHO warns consumers of certain types of food with high fat content but admits its blur over on the levels and extent of the actual contamination.

Nestle Malaysia advises consumers to check 'use before' date.

Malaysian Health authorities have seized and sealed RM1.85mil worth of EU foodstuff; schools warned not buy food; supermakers say they will refund customers;

JUNE 12 : The Malaysian Health Ministry has directed all manufacturers and importers to withdraw all ads and assurances they have given to consumers on product safety following the dioxin scare.

Eggs and meat banned in Europe's latest food scare were back on Belgian shelves but others were emptied of soft drinks Coke, Sprite and Fanta after the government ordered a ban because several dozen children had become ill.

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, said a poll.

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

Germany's federal health ministry said on tests carried out on Belgian eggs had revealed levels of the toxic chemical PCB exceeding national safety limits by up to 65 times. It urged Brussels to widen its investigations into tainted foods to include PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which highly poisonous and affect the nervous system if consumed by humans. They are man-made chemicals that create dioxins when heated.

Hong Kong orders 100,000 imported Europe eggs off market

Thailand has banned a variety of foods from France and the Netherlands.

Malaysian company, which distributes Bebelac Infant Formula, states that all its products are sourced from New Zealand and are safe.

Malaysian government says it will lift ban on EU products if the manufacturers can provide certs that are free of dioxin contamination.

F & N Coca-Cola (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd said there is no link between the voluntary withdrawal of Coca-Cola in Belgium and the recent food issue in that country.

JUNE 13: Myanmar became the latest Asian country Sunday to announce a ban on imports of meat and dairy products from European nations

Malaysian Health Ministry in collaboration with the Customs and Veterinary Service departments is stepping up checks at Port Klang and the KL International Airport for possible entry of dioxin contaminated food.

Dairy product manufacturers and importers have agreed to withdraw ads in Malaysia assuring consumers their products are safe.