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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 20:59 GMT 21:59 UK

World: Europe

Cancer scare over Belgian chickens

Russia has banned the import of Belgian eggs and chickens

By Shareen Wheeler in Brussels

The European Union could ban exports of chicken and eggs from Belgium after high levels of the cancer-causing chemical dioxin were found in some stocks.

The European Commission may propose a ban depending on advice from experts meeting in Brussels to discuss the risks.

France and Germany are already advising their consumers not to eat Belgian chicken or eggs. Russia has imposed a temporary ban.

Belgium exports about half of its chicken and egg production.

Last week, all domestic sales were banned while further tests were carried out and 350 farms placed under surveillance.

The Belgian Agriculture Ministry has said it is investigating high dioxin levels in chicken meat and eggs linked to a batch of contaminated animal feed.

Risk 'minimal'

Officials insist the risks are minimal, but dioxin is highly toxic. Tests have shown that once it is absorbed into the human body it can cause cancer.

There are suggestions that Belgian Government officials knew about the danger of contamination two months ago.

With just two weeks before Belgium's general elections, that has led to calls by opposition parties for the resignations of the health and agriculture ministers.

Meanwhile, the office of the European Union Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, has said that action could be taken against Belgium if it appeared that information was not provided promptly enough.

Theoretically if a proposal to ban Belgian chicken and eggs was supported by European Union governments, it could come into force almost immediately.

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