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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Orders Destruction of Belgian Poultry

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- In its biggest food scandal since the mad cow disease, the European Union on Wednesday decided to order the destruction of Belgian chickens, eggs and by-products that may have been contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin.

The EU's executive commission ordered the measure after a meeting of veterinary experts and lashed out at Belgium for being so slow with information and action that could put the European consumer in danger.

"This is completely unacceptable. We reserve the right to take the necessary steps,'' said EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler, threatening with legal action against the EU member state.

Several other nations, including Switzerland, took independent action Wednesday against Belgian contaminated poultry products. Russia said Monday that it had imposed a temporary ban on the products.

In Belgium, two officials from a major animal feed fat producer were arrested and accused of tampering with the fat that goes into chicken feed, the likely cause how toxic dioxins entered the food chain. Measures had already been taken in EU member states the Netherlands, Germany and France, which imported Belgian chicken feed.

The EU Commission will now investigate the issue further to see if the dioxin contamination was accidental "or far more serious - are we talking about habitual use,'' said EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Emma Bonino.

She said "acute [health] effects appear to be relatively unlikely,'' but added "there are possible long-term effects.''

"It is impossible to assess the effects because we don't know the rate of exposure,'' she said. The first traces of contaminated chicken feed in Belgium go back to January.

The EU decision forces EU nations to destroy any poultry, eggs, or by-products from some 400 suspect farms in Belgium produced from Jan. 15 to June 1. By-products must be destroyed if they contain more than 2 percent of poultry from those farms.

Belgium's new Health Minister Luc Van den Bossche extended a slaughter ban on chickens until he had a clearer view on the extent of the dioxin contamination.Van den Bossche was named health minister after fellow Socialist Marcel Colla and Farm Minister Karel Pinxten were forced to resign Tuesday when it became clear they had known for a month about the dioxin pollution before informing consumers and taking measures to ban the sale of tainted food.

The EU Commission was only informed May 27.

"The Commission considers this to be most regrettable given that this information seems to have been available to the Belgian authorities at a much earlier date,'' a Commission statement said.

The move came on the heels of the extension of an order to withdraw chicken and eggs from the market to include all by-products such as mayonnaise, pastries and cakes, because of fears of dioxin contamination.

The order extended the scope of an earlier move by the Health Ministry Friday to withdraw chickens and eggs from the market.

Belgium exported almost 13 billion francs (320 million euros/$340 million) in chickens and eggs last year.