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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK
Belgian hormone killers jailed
pigs
Injecting livestock with hormones fattens them faster
A Belgian court has sentenced four men to lengthy prison terms for the murder of a livestock inspector who championed an inquiry into the practice of plying animals with illegal hormones.

Karel van Noppen was shot dead in February 1995, several months after he started investigations into Belgium's so-called "hormone mafia", a circle which was making money from injecting cattle with illegal hormones to fatten them faster, and more cheaply.

Three men received 25-year sentences: Albert Barrez, who carried out the killing, Carl de Schutter, who organised it, and Germain Daenen, one of the men who ordered the murder.

The fourth defendant, Alex Vercauteren, who also ordered the killing, received a life sentence without parole, the longest sentence possible under Belgian law.

Hormone panic

Mr Van Noppen's death caused outrage across the country at a time when the use of hormones to fatten up livestock had become a major health and consumer issue in Europe.

The European Union banned the import of hormone-treated beef from the United States, where the practice is an accepted one, in 1989.

Many farmers are tempted by the practice as it enables them to increase the amount of meat that their animals produce without increasing the amount that they are fed.

According to the EU's scientific committee, eating hormone-treated flesh could pose a risk of cancer, genetic problems and brain disease. It claims children are most at risk.

But other scientists argue that because these substances have no effect if swallowed, then there is no logical explanation why they should have such an effect when meat is consumed.

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