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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK

World: Europe

Probe into French sewage scare

This Toulouse factory was among those highlighted by media reports

European food safety inspectors are to investigate reports that French companies have been using sewage and other banned substances in the preparation of animal feed.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy: The European Commission is taking no chances
The French authorities have admitted that waste including sludge from septic tanks and effluent from animal carcasses were found in raw material destined for animal meal at the end of 1998, or early in 1999, at three slaughterhouses and a gelatin manufacturing plant.

While acknowledging the slip in controls, France told the European Commission that in none of the cases had the sludge originated in domestic waste treatment plants.

It also stressed that such "malfunctioning" had been stopped by official intervention, said Commission spokesman Thierry Daman.

'All waste treated'

He said the Commission had received a letter from the French Government rejecting media reports that feed had been tainted by dangerous pesticides, heavy metals and human waste.

[ image: German TV alleged residues were being used in feed for pigs and poultry]
German TV alleged residues were being used in feed for pigs and poultry
Mr Daman said the French authorities had also stated there was no reason to believe that untreated sludge had made its way into any animal feed made in France, noting that all waste was subject to sterilising heat treatment during processing.

Nonetheless, he said a team of European Union inspectors would be travelling to France in the next few days to check the plants believed to be involved.

Signs of the latest possible food scare to hit European consumers came to light following reports in French and German media.

The Commission wrote to the French authorities last week to demand an urgent response to a report on Germany's ARD television which alleged that residues from septic tanks, waste-water plants and abattoirs were being added to feed for pork and poultry at plants in western and central France.

Belgian scare

The report alleged the residues could contain dangerous bacteria, antibiotics and chemicals such as the cancer-causing dioxin, which was recently found in Belgian animal feed - sparking international bans on Belgian meat and dairy products.

In response to the Belgian food scare, the Commission has authorised the Belgian Government to pay some 150m euros ($159m) to farmers whose produce has been destroyed.

Belgium is also reported to be seeking the European Union's approval for a further package of cheap loans for affected farmers that are expected to be worth 620m euros ($657m) over seven years.

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