Pigs tested for dioxin, 650 EU farms quarantined

EU - Germany has slaughtered pigs from five farms for testing and hundreds of farms in Belgium and the Netherlands remained quarantined on Wednesday as authorities probed levels of the carcinogen dioxin in pig meat.
calendar icon 2 February 2006
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Dutch and Belgian food officials said that meat from contaminated farms was sold in shops in the last two months but they ruled out any serious risk to public health, although conclusive meat tests results are not due until later in the week or next week.

More than 650 farms, including a handful raising chickens, have been quarantined in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany since last week when the news first broke. Produce from the farms cannot be sold or transported while the order remains in effect.

The dioxin, a class of chemicals widely used in industrial processes, got into Belgian pork fat ingredients used to make animal feed in October, authorities have said.

"Meat from affected farms was sold in shops ... But the fact that dioxin is above the norm in animal feed doesn't automatically mean a direct health risk," said Pascal Houbaert, spokesman of the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA.

Annette Kraft van Ermel of the Dutch food agency VWA said: "Even if the dioxin in meat is above the standard, one should eat contaminated meat several times a day for a very long period to feel an impact. And this is not the case".

The officials said they were not going to recall meat from shops in the two countries. It is the latest contamination problem to hit Europe after a similar case in 2004, when dioxin was found in Dutch potato feed.

The Netherlands is one of Europe's biggest pork and animal feed producers while Belgium also has substantial pork exports. South Korea banned pork imports from both countries last week. Five farms in Germany remained sealed off since Tuesday. Feed samples were being tested and animals from the affected farms had been slaughtered for testing, Jochen Heimberg, spokesman for German nation food safety agency BVL, said.


Shares in Belgian chemical maker Tessenderlo fell more than three percent on Tuesday following news the dioxin came from one of its subsidiaries. The shares recovered on Wednesday and traded 3.16 percent up at 28.68 euros by 1255 GMT.

Dioxins are one of a number of toxic chemicals that originate in pesticides or industrial processes. They get into rivers and lakes and build up in the flesh of fish and animals. Contaminated feed has triggered several west European food scares such as the discovery of dioxin in Dutch potato animal feed in 2004, an illegal hormone in Dutch pigs in 2002 and a 1999 Belgian scandal of dioxin in chickens.

Belgian food safety officials discovered that the dioxin in the latest outbreak came from the use of an unfiltered ingredient to extract pig fat from the process of making gelatine at PB Gelatins, a Tessenderlo unit. The extracted fat was later distributed to Belgian animal feed producers such as Leroy and Algoet. "The problem shows that the PCB test was inadequate for testing dioxins and that we were wrong... to rely on it," Tessenderlo said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Based on the new insights into PCBs and dioxin, Tessenderlo Group will be further tightening its procedures and its evaluation of this kind of situation," it added. The company said it was too early to discuss compensation for tainted feed.

Belgian food safety officials said the dioxin was no longer present in subsequent batches of extracted fat at PB Gelatins. (Additional reporting by Gilles Castonguay in Brussels and Michael Hogan in Germany)

Source: Reuters - 1st February 2006

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