Officials have ruled out a serious risk to human health as the contaminated animal products had not yet reached consumers. However, in total, all movement of animals from 162 farms in the Netherlands, eight in Belgium and three in Germany has been blocked by the relevant authorities.

The feed product was from the Dutch unit of Canadian potato-processing company McCain, who use by-products such as potato peel for animal feed. Commission officials tracing the dioxins through the food chain say the contamination came from a ‘potato-separator clay’, used to separate high and low quality potatoes, which itself has high levels of dioxin.

Sampling and analysis of the potato by-products delivered to all farms as well of the farms products of animal origin is ongoing. Results should soon disclose whether the restrictions on some farms can be lifted.

McCain Foods Holland has confirmed that they have now stopped using the separator clay. The Commission has also asked for the distribution list of the German clay company to verify whether more food operators purchased the clay to separate foods. In addition, the Commission has asked all Member States to investigate whether separation processes using clay are current practice within their territories.

“Member State authorities and the Commission are co-operating closely to ensure that safety of consumer is not jeopardised. Together we will act swiftly yet responsibly. So far, our system of traceability and alert notifications is working well. It is vital that the confidence of the consumer in our food chain is maintained,” said Commissioner David Byrne.

Dioxins are one of a number of persistent organic pollutants originating in agricultural and industrial processes which can then leak into watercourse, and build up through the food chain in the flesh of fish, birds and animals.

By David Hopkins

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