Ministers resign as EU bans Belgian products contaminated by dioxin-laden animal feed

The use of dioxin-contaminated animal feed in Belgian farms has lead to a Europe-wide ban on affected products and the resignation of Belgium's Ministers for health and agriculture, who are said to have known about the problem for a month before informing the public and international authorities.


The European Commission yesterday ordered member states to ensure the withdrawal and destruction of any poultry or egg products or food products containing these products from the market, “if these products may contain poultry-related products which have come from the suspect farms”.

For trade purposes the Belgian authorities will have to certify that exported products do not contain material originating from the restricted farms. For food products the restriction applies if the product contains more than 2% egg/poultry products. The Belgian authorities are obliged to provide all information necessary to facilitate the tracing of exported products which must then be destroyed. Dioxin monitoring Plans must be put in place in Belgium and in member states that have imported contaminated products.

Chronology

A ‘problem’ at the Verkest animal feed company was first reported to the Ministry of Agriculture on 19 March, says the Belgian Federal Government. On 26 April, the laboratory analyses confirmed that the problem was due to contamination with dioxin, and an investigation was launched into which poultry companies had supplied with feed. On 3 May, the 10 poultry companies (4 producing mother hens, 6 producing chickens for roasting) were frozen, in order to prevent these companies from making their products available for human consumption.

The problem was traced to the contamination of a batch of animal fat at the Verkest rendering works in Deinze with a substance containing high concentrations of dioxin, at the end of January. On Wednesday 26 May, the results of a further tests showed that eggs for hatching were strongly contaminated with dioxin and that the contaminated fat had been supplied to several animal feed companies.

From 27 May all 417 poultry producing companies that were suspected of having been supplied with contaminated animal feed or chickens produced from potentially contaminated mother hens were placed under surveillance. Their products (eggs and poultry) were traced and withdrawn from consumption.

On 28 May, the advice was issued that poultry and eggs should be withdrawn from public sale and that as a temporary precaution no poultry or eggs of Belgian origin should be eaten.

pigs also affected

The Belgian authorities have now also put a ban on the slaughter of all pigs, as it is suspected that the same contaminated feed may also have been used in pig farms. The Commission warned that the same rules should apply for non poultry products should other livestock have been fed the contaminated feed. A number of countries have already imposed restrictions on pig producing farms on a precautionary basis while the situation is being assessed.

This is not the first time that dioxin has found its way into the food chain in Europe. Two years ago milk from European cows was contaminated with dioxin and had to be destroyed. The source of the contamination was traced to imported Brazilian citrus pulp for animal feed which had been mixed with industrial waste. So far, the European Commission, which has started to investigate the case, has refused to name the companies involved in the scandal, though Greenpeace alleges that the waste originated from the Belgian chemical firm Solvay, and that this has been corroborated by the Brazilian authorities.

According to Reuters, the two managers of the processing company at the centre of the current scandal were arrested this week and charged with fraudulent accounting and merchandise fraud.

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