BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's chicken and pork
producers were left reeling Friday by a U.S. suspension of
all imports in the widening scare over Belgian farm
products poisoned by the highly toxic chemical dioxin.
Europe's worst food crisis since the mad cow disease alert
deepened after the EU said it would order the destruction
of all chicken, egg, pork and cattle products from around
1,000 Belgian farms that used tainted animal feed.
Banner headlines in Belgian newspapers on Friday
highlighted the consumer panic.
"Total havoc," Het Laatste Nieuws said. "A country in
need...This is a human and economic catastrophe. Our
reputation abroad is ruined, the agri-industry threatened,
thousands of jobs in danger, companies and traders in
"What are you eating today?" asked Het Nieuwsblad on its
front page showing an empty plate, knife and fork.
The U.S. Agriculture Department announced the temporary
ban on Thursday and said it would review all imports of
pork and poultry products from the EU since January to see
if any additional action was needed.
U.S. inspection officials described the U.S. action as a
"hold," rather than an outright ban. It will apply to all
products containing pork and poultry in addition to just
the meats, the department said.
Only a small quantity of European poultry products, mostly
pate, are shipped to U.S. buyers. About $250 million worth
of European pork was imported last year out of total U.S.
imports of $701 million.
On Friday South Korea also banned farm product imports
Belgium has banned the transport of poultry, pigs and
cattle while it checks which livestock farms received the
The crisis broke a week ago when it emerged that chickens
on about 400 Belgian farms had been given feed contaminated
with highly toxic dioxin, rocking Prime Minister's Jean Luc
Dehaene's government two weeks before an election and
prompting the resignation of Belgium's farm and health
Major Belgian supermarkets had already swept their shelves
clear of chicken and egg products on Thursday -- including
fresh pasta, mayonnaise and cakes -- when it became clear
that the problem extended to both pork and beef, and
possibly even milk.
Public confidence in food safety, already hit by recent
scares over "mad cow" disease, hormones in beef, swine
fever and antibiotics in pork, took a further pounding with
Belgium's admission that the tainted feed had been sold
more widely than originally thought and even exported.
The EU's latest plan, which will be rubber stamped on
Friday, applies to some 500 pig farms and around 70 cattle
farms identified by the Belgian authorities, in addition to
more than 400 poultry units already targeted.
All food made from meat and eggs originating on these
farms since January 15 will have to be traced, removed from
sale and destroyed. An EU official would not rule out that
even dairy products could be affected.
The managers of the Verkest fats and oils company at the
center of the storm have been charged with labeling and
accounting fraud. The firm is believed to have supplied
animal feed makers with a tainted product, although exactly
how the dioxin contamination occurred is still under
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