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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK


Ministers 'will ignore dioxins'

Into the dustbin: Suspect meat is thrown away as Belgium's dioxin scare intensifies

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Environment and health ministers from 51 European countries are set to neglect the implications of Belgium's food crisis, says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

They will in London at a World Health Organisation ministerial meeting on environment and health between 16 and 18 June.

WWF-UK is calling on the ministers "to make toxic chemicals a top priority".

It says, despite Belgium's trauma, the subject has been pushed off the conference agenda, and is not mentioned in the current draft declaration to be signed at the end of the meeting.

"Insidious threat"

The head of WWF-UK's toxic programme is Elizabeth Salter. She says: "The fact that a statement from one of the largest environmental and health events ever held in Europe would not prioritise the insidious threat of toxic chemicals is mystifying."

WWF has prepared a critique of the conference's draft declaration, in which it urges European governments to take the lead in tackling toxic chemical-related issues.

It says: "The current scandal regarding dioxin-contaminated food in Belgium highlights the urgent need for action to address the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment and health."

[ image: Belgian hams are checked at the French border]
Belgian hams are checked at the French border
"Given these immense stakes, precaution dictates swift action to control, and where necessary ban, the use of such chemicals."

Persistant pollutants

Dioxins are produced in the burning of toxic and urban waste, and in some industrial processes.

Negotiations have begun on an international treaty to control persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Dioxins are on the initial list of 12 pesticides, chemicals and by-products which WWF believes should be banned under the treaty.

POPs, endocrine-disrupting substances and other industrial and agricultural chemicals threaten wildlife and people by their widespread distribution and accumulation in the food chain.

WWF says Belgium is not an isolated case, and that nowhere on Earth remains free of toxic chemicals.

"Each of us now carries several hundred synthetic chemicals that were not present in the bodies of our great-grandparents at the turn of the century."

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