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Europe

Latest Food Scare Overshadows EU Agricultural Summit

EU agriculture ministers are meeting today to discuss radical proposals to the common agricultural policy. Also on the agenda is the issue of hormone-laced pig feed from Holland that is seeping into European countries.

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Suspect feed?

A stormy and intense meeting is expected in Brussels Monday among agriculture ministers from across the European Union.

It’s the first time the ministers will debate the controversial agricultural changes to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) approved last week by the European Commission. It would in effect sever the link between the amount of financial aid given to European farmers and the amount of milk, grain or meat they produce.

Parts of the meeting will be televised, and ministers are expected to take a tough line keeping in mind that their farmers at home will be expecting them to defend their interests. EU organisers are also expecting protests and demonstrations by farmers in Brussels.

Hormone-tainted pig feed hits Germany

But while the radical changes to the CAP are expected to dominate the meeting, agriculture ministers will also turn their attention to another pressing problem of pig feed contaminated with banned growth hormones from The Netherlands finding its way to farms in neighbouring countries.

Germany remains one of the worst-hit, with some 100 farms particularly in the western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony affected on account of their proximity to Holland.

The agriculture minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bärbel Höhn, said in an interview with public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that some 8,500 tons of tainted pig feed are estimated to have landed on German farms and feed producing companies. She said that the companies would now be examined and, if necessary, closed down.

Yesterday, the German Consumer Protection Ministry announced that further imports of feed contaminated with the Medorxyprogesterone-acetate or MPA hormone are believed to have landed in large quantities in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and France.

Dutch authorities trace culprit

Holland, the world’s third-largest exporter of pork, is now under pressure from the European Commission to shed light on the latest in a series of food safety scandals to hit Europe.

"This is the sort of thing which starts off quite small and that then triggers off a broader contamination", European Commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder told reporters last week.

Dutch authorities have already arrested one of the owners of the bankrupt Belgian firm, "Bioland/Liquid Sugars" that is suspected of having delivered contaminated feed to pig farms in Holland.

But in a sign that the scandal is widening beyond estimated dimensions, health food authorities say they have also found MPA traces in materials Bioland supplied to two soft drink firms, one of them believed to be based in Germany.

Since the last shipments of these soft drink syrups were in May 2001, health authorities now fear that people could have already consumed the drinks.

German minister to push for action

German Minster for Consumer Protection and Agriculture Renate Künast -- who came under fire recently for information lapses by her ministry in the scandal regarding cancer-causing herbicide nitrofen in German animal feed -- is expected to push for the publication of an EU-wide list of permitted ingredients in animal feed at the Brussels meeting.

On German television Monday morning, Künast said the European Feed-Producing Industry should be controlled more effectively.

The MPA hormone in the latest food scandal is banned in the EU as scientists believe it might cause infertility in humans if taken in high doses and for long periods.

But MPA is still used by humans in birth control pills and also in hormone replacement therapy for women going through menopause. It is also approved as a growth stimulant in animal feed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

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