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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK

World: Europe

Belgian chickens banned in Europe

Belgium exports about half its egg and chicken produce

Belgian poultry products linked to farms contaminated with cancer causing chemicals are to be pulled from European shelves the EU ordered on Wednesday.

The European Union's veterinary committee approved an official recommendation to destroy all poultry products from several hundred Belgian farms suspected of having used feed contaminated with dioxin for the production of eggs and chickens.

Acting European Agricultural Commissioner, Franz Fischler said the order applies to products produced between 15 January to 1 June.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia's Chief Veterinarian, Vyacheslav Avolov, announced a temporary ban on the import and sale of Belgian poultry products, ordering Russian shopkeepers to check their records back to March.

Two arrested

Two managers of an animal-feed company have reportedly been arrested in connection with the case.

The French news agency AFP quotes judicial sources as saying Lucien Verkest and his son Jan, have been charged with fraud and falsification of documents.

They are accused of selling feed to farmers that did not contain 100% animal matter and whose true contents were not specified on their invoices.

Heads roll

The Belgian health minister, Marcel Colla, and agriculture ministers, Karel Pinxten, both resigned on Tuesday when it emerged there had been a three-month delay between the contamination becoming known and the withdrawal of poultry products from Belgian shelves.

[ image: Karel Pinxten's resignation has not restored confidence]
Karel Pinxten's resignation has not restored confidence
The government ordered Belgian-produced chicken and eggs to be taken off the country's shelves last week.

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

Belgium exports about half of its chicken and egg production.

Net campaign

In a bid to calm public reaction, the Belgian Government has added a special section about dioxin contamination on its Internet site.

[ image:  ]
For a certain period contaminated chickens and eggs were available for consumption, the government site says.

"The contamination was at its highest during March and April," it says. "The risk posed by products that were on the shelves on 27 May was slight, but not zero."

But according to Wednesday's Belgian press, it will take more than resignations to restore public confidence.

"What is worse than discovering a potential poison in every chicken, every egg, every patisserie?" Le Soir asked.

Correspondents say the crisis could not have come at a worse time for the government, with elections due in less than two weeks.

Fowl ban

On Tuesday, the European Commission stopped short of proposing a blanket ban on chicken and egg exports from Belgium.

It said it was satisfied Brussels had identified the farms which had used dioxin-contaminated animal feed.

But Mr Fischler warned Belgium it could face legal action for failing to alert its European partners soon enough to the potential danger.

France and Germany are advising their consumers not to eat Belgian chicken or eggs.

Contaminated feed

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 measure.

"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."

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