Dioxin in meat is Europe's new food scare

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DANGEROUS LEVELS of cancer-causing dioxin exist in meat from all industrialised countries, the European Commission said yesterday, sparking a new scare over food safety.

The statement raised questions about the safety of meat in Britain which, like most EU countries, has no systematic scheme to check farms close to industrial polluters. The alarm was raised from tests on Belgian beef which revealed that samples containing more than the maximum permitted quantities of dioxin had been poisoned by industrial sources, rather than the contamination which devastated Belgian agriculture earlier this year. The news emerged as another food safety scandal broke with the admission that sewage sludge was used in Belgian animal feed until June this year.

Similar revelations from France, Germany and the Netherlands have provoked alarm over the material entering the food chain, including items exported to Britain. The latest concerns over dioxin emerged from test results on 1,000 Belgian beef samples 10 of which contained more than the permitted 200 nanograms of dioxin per gram of fat.

A spokesman for the European Commission said: "All positive samples are from animals raised near industrial plants. We are concerned about the 1 per cent, but this is not a Belgian problem. It is related to everywhere in the world where you have industrial complexes and incinerators. Up to now there has been no requirement to measure dioxin in food. We do not have the data."

Yesterday the European Commission said it was powerless to intervene to stop the poisoning which it blamed on pollution from industrial plants next to farms. It is planning to stop safeguards against Belgian beef on the basis that the continuing dioxin poisoning comes from a routine source.

The issue is likely to be discussed at a meeting of agriculture ministers on Monday, with pressure for a new regime of Europe-wide checks likely.

British officials say there is no systematic inspection of meat produced in farms near to industrial sites, although there are spot checks on all produce.

At Monday's meeting David Byrne, the Health Commissioner, will press the 15 EU farm ministers to impose a stricter definition of what can enter the food chain amid concern over the use of sewage sludge.

The Belgian government confirmed reports that toilet and animal waste sludge had been mixed into animal fodder for years. The practice wasstopped in June. "Often we didn't realise what kind of filth was mixed into fodder," said the Belgian Farm Minister Jaak Gabriels. "It is incredible how people used to be duped."

Mr Byrne will seek to tighten the definition of sludge to keep polluting elements out of the food chain.