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Tuesday, June 8, 1999 Published at 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK

World: Europe

EU may sue over food scandal

Belgians have been instructed to dispose of dairy products

The European Commission is considering taking legal action against the Belgian Government for its handling of the food contamination scare, which has cost European farmers billions of dollars in lost earnings.

Agriculture spokesman Gerry Kiely tells Europe Today of the commission's reaction to the scare
The news came as Belgium announced it was partially lifting the ban on the sale of meat cleared of being contaminated with the cancer-producing chemical, dioxin.

The commission's agriculture spokesman, Gerry Kiely, told the BBC that the Belgian authorities had been aware that animal feed had been contaminated with dioxin, as far back as April.

"We are very dissatisfied with that and we may well take some legal action against the Belgian authorities later," Mr Kiely said.

However he added that the commission's immediate concern was to ensure that all contaminated products were removed from the market to allay consumer fears.

[ image: Other countries, such as Greece, are also getting rid of Belgian produce]
Other countries, such as Greece, are also getting rid of Belgian produce
Belgium's new Health Minister, Luc Van den Bossche, reportedly apologised to his European counterparts during a meeting about the dioxin scare, for not informing the commission of the crisis earlier.

Hundreds of products have been withdrawn from Belgian supermarket shelves since the alert - estimated so far to have cost Belgium's food industry up to $1.3bn.

Countries worldwide have banned the import of Belgian meat and dairy products and several countries have imposed a blanket ban on European farm produce.

The EU Commission sought on Tuesday to calm the fears of third countries over the dioxin scare.

Mr Kiely told a news briefing: "We are meeting with all the third countries involved to explain the controls that are in place, and we would hope to get these disproportionate measures on all EU products lifted."

Meat back on shelves

Europe Correspondent Jonathan Beale: Mr Dehaene is anxious to reassure Belgian consumers
Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene on Tuesday said the slaughter ban on poultry could be removed from Wednesday for three-quarters of the country's chicken farms.

He said: "The products from these breeders will be sold from midnight on Tuesday because the European Commission has said that products from uncontaminated producers can be put back on the market."

The decision allows 2,456 out of 3,266 breeders to sell their products again after being cleared of dioxin contamination.

[ image: Mr Dehaene is facing general elections this week]
Mr Dehaene is facing general elections this week
Mr Dehaene said the block on beef and pork would end 24 hours later if a full list of affected farms could be drawn up.

"Everyone admits it is not a general contamination, but a restricted accident that we have to isolate," the prime minister said.

Samples taken at three animal feed firms in the country had tested positive for the chemical, he added.

Samples from a further six firms, which also produced and sold animal feed with fat from a Belgian oils and fats processing company believed to be at the heart of the scare, had so far tested negative. Further tests would be conducted, the prime minister said.

"We are doing the impossible, are using every means so that before the end of the week ... the situation is normal again," Mr Dehaene said of the 12-day food scandal.

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