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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK

World: Europe

Heads roll in chicken scandal

Russia has banned the import of Belgian eggs and chickens

Two Belgian Government ministers have resigned following criticism of the way they handled the discovery of cancer-causing chemicals in poultry products.

Belgium's King Albert has accepted the resignation of Agriculture Minister Karel Pinxten and Health Minister Marcel Colla.

The pair said in a joint statement that no mistake had been made in the dioxin chicken affair - but they were apparently aware of the health hazard two months ago.

Last week, the government ordered Belgian-produced chicken and eggs to be taken off the country's shelves.

On Tuesday, the ban was widened to cover the sale of other products containing eggs or chicken until further checks have been carried out.

Acting EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, speaking after a meeting of agriculture ministers in Dresden, Germany, warned Belgium that it could face legal action for failing to alert its European partners soon enough to the potential danger.

European Union vets met in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss whether to ban Belgian food exports which might contain the chemical.

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

Contaminated feed

Belgium exports about half of its chicken and egg production.

Mr Fischler said the contamination could be traced to one company in Belgium, which supplied fats for animal feed to nine compounders.

This was then sold on to several hundred farms and also exported, meaning that other countries could also be covered by any EU ban.

"Four countries have been affected - Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany - this is where the feed has appeared." he said. "We need to look at what products have reached third countries."

Belgian Budget Minister Herman Van Rompuy is to take on the agriculture department following the resignations, while Interior Minister Luc Van den Bossche would take over the health portfolio.

The Belgian Government has been rocked by scandals before. In the past two years, three other ministers resigned over the death of an asylum-seeker and the escape from prison of alleged child-killer Marc Dutroux.

But correspondents say the latest resignations - coming less than two weeks before a general election - could seal the fate of the ruling coalition.

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