Food Law News - EU - 1999

16 June 1999: CONTAMINANTS - Preliminary results of EU-inspection to Belgium

Commission Press Release (IP/99/399 ), 16 June 1999

Preliminary results of EU-inspection to Belgium

The source of the dioxin contamination in Belgium is still not clear. Both hypothesis on how the contamination of the fat at the beginning of the feed chain may have occurred whether by a leak in the heating system or by a mistake during the collection of oils therefore have to be maintained. This is the main preliminary result of the mission of EU inspectors to Belgium last week. In the draft urgency report, that was sent to the Belgian authorities for comments before a final report is written, the inspectors also point to the fact that the protective measures taken by the Commission against the dioxin contamination are not fully applied. The inspectors also noted shortcomings in the control of the feed production chain and criticised the general co-ordination and the information flow of the Belgian authorities which lead to a great confusion among consumers.

On the basis of these findings, the inspectors recommend the Belgian authorities to fully apply the Community legislation, to reflect on the organisation of their food security system, to continue their investigation into the source of contamination. Other Member States should ensure that no chemical contamination can occur during the collection of recycled oils. They should also evaluate the risks of using certain oils in the old installations for fat heating which exist in the sectors of the animal feed and food production. The inspectors recommend to improve the animal feed legislation in particular by imposing strict rules on the use of recycled oils and to examine the situation in other Member States that received potentially contaminated feed.

Meanwhile a group of Commission and external scientific experts came to the conclusion that in this specific case of contamination, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) can be used as an indicator for dioxins for chicken, eggs and derived products. If less than 200 ng/g fat is found, the PCB analysis is sufficient. If more than 200 ng/g fat is found, the food should also be checked for dioxins. Dioxin tests are costly and time-consuming. In the best case it takes approximately a week to obtain a result and there are not enough highly specialised laboratories for this work. Analysis for PCBs take less than two days and are less expensive. In the present situation where large amounts of food is blocked in order to be traced and tested, such a screening method could give a quick estimate of the contamination of food and allow to identify contaminated products speedily.

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