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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK

World: Europe

Coca-Cola 'regrets' contamination

Millions of bottles and cans go back to the warehouse

Coca-Cola says it regrets the recent problems experienced by its European customers, and pledged to take "all necessary steps" to guarantee the safety of its products.

The statement was made by the company's chairman and CEO, Douglas Ivester, in a statement on Wednesday.

Patrick O'Connell: Coca-cola have attributed responsibility to quality control
More than 100 people in Belgium and two in France have complained of headaches, dizziness and stomach upsets after drinking canned soft drinks manufactured by Coca-Cola.

"For 113 years our success has been based on the trust that consumers have in that quality. That trust is sacred to us," Ivester said.

His statement came after four European countries - Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg - started taking Coca-Cola soft drinks off their shelves Monday and Tuesday.

Two states in Germany said on Wednesday that they were conducting spot tests on Coca-Cola products.

[ image: Coca Cola: Trust of the customer is sacred]
Coca Cola: Trust of the customer is sacred
The company said its Antwerp, Belgium factory used the wrong type of carbon dioxide gas that gives Coca-Cola its fizz, making the drink taste bad, and that a fungicide had caused some contamination at its factory in northern France.

On Wednesday Belgium's health ministry said it was deciding whether to lift a sales ban on Coca-Cola products.

Health ministry officials were waiting for a full report from the company on how dozens of Coke drinkers fell ill.

In the meantime, the French authorities suspended the sale of all canned drinks manufactured by the Coca-Cola company.

Announcing the decision, the French Junior Commerce Minister, Marylise Lebranchu, said France was not satisfied with Coca-Cola's explanations for the recent health scare in Belgium.

Risk list

A list of suspect drinks produced by the company has been issued to European Union countries by the commission.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale: "Consumer confidence can't sink any lower"
They include not just Coca-Cola, but other brands like Fanta, Sprite, Nestea, Kinley tonic, Lift and juice drinks sold under the Minute Maid name, as well as Bon Aqua and Aquarius lemon, orange and grapefruit.

The EU Commission's approach

A spokesman for the European Commission said he believed the problem was mainly confined to Belgium and the company's bottling plants there, but France and the Netherlands may have received some exports.

He said the commission saw no need to take further immediate action.

The latest sales ban came as Belgium was still reeling from a food scare linked to the contamination of meat and eggs by the cancer-causing chemical, dioxin.

That led the government to ban sales of chicken, pork, beef, eggs and meat products.

Coca-Cola has been active in Belgium for 70 years. It has large bottling operations in Antwerp and Ghent.

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