Contaminated food `was exported all over Europe'

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EUROPE'S FOOD contamination crisis spiralled out of control yesterday as the Belgian government banned the nation from eating butter, the French and Italian authorities discovered that their consumers may have been directly exposed to the cancer-causing dioxins at the source of the scare and the Dutch Agriculture Minister resigned.

British ministers have insisted there is no cause for panic here but it is becoming clear that contaminated Belgian food may have been exported all over Europe.

A Turin prosecutor yesterday sent a team of investigators to an agricultural firm in Piedmont in northern Italy suspected of having imported the contaminated Belgian fat to make animal feed. In France, meanwhile, a huge consignment of chicken legs - up to 20 tonnes - marketed by a Brittany firm and labelled as French were withdrawn after a national hunt for risky food products uncovered that they were in fact Belgian.

Europe's health ministers meeting in Brussels today are expected to give their Belgian counterpart, Luc van den Bossche, a grilling for the delay in informing them of the incident which led to the scare.

As the scandal continued to reverberate internationally EU veterinary officers meeting for crisis talks were given a list of 1,400 farms the Belgian government believes received the dioxin-poisoned animal feed. It had previously said only 1,000 farms were affected. The vets endorsed the health precautions imposed by the European Commission last week when it demanded the destruction of any animals or food products known to have come into contact with the suspect feed.

But the system for disposing of the products which may be tainted is paralysed amid continuing disputes in Belgium over who will pay farmers compensation. Not a single chicken had by yesterday been slaughtered in the three abattoirs designated for getting rid of birds which cannot be consumed.

Supermarket shelves in Belgium have already been cleared of eggs, poultry, pork, beef and all their by-products. Ordinary Belgians were yesterday left wondering if there would be anything left to eat.