Food Flap Sparks EU Reaction

Alarmed by growing evidence that sewage sludge was routinely mixed into livestock fodder, the European Commission said Tuesday it will seek to tighten animal foodstuff regulations to keep toilet residue and cleaning chemicals out of the human food chain.

European Union Health Commissioner David Byrne will press a meeting of the 15 EU farm ministers next Monday to impose a stricter definition of what can enter the food chain. Member states now interpret the existing legislation differently, allowing for loopholes.

Late Monday, the Belgian government confirmed reports that toilet and animal waste sludge had been mixed into animal fodder for years. Belgian Farm Minister Jaak Gabriels insisted the practice was stopped in June.

The VRT television network confronted Gabriels with a report showing that sludge from slaughterhouses, tainted with waste from toilets, showers and cleaning products, regularly ended up in Belgium's food chain.

"Often we didn't realize what kind of filth was mixed into fodder," he said. "It is incredible how people used to be duped." The minister stressed that the practice had come to an end at the time the dioxin food crisis broke in late May.

The food inspection report was likely to worsen the reputation of Belgian cuisine, following the worldwide scare this spring when the government announced that high levels of the cancer-causing chemical dioxin had been discovered in eggs, meat and dairy products.

The fear led to a wide range of Belgian food products being pulled from supermarkets around the world, causing the biggest food safety scandal in Europe since the 1996 British Mad Cow crisis.

The government has said the dioxin problem is under control and it is working on improving the image of Belgian food across the globe.

Gabriels said the government would investigate why it took so long to curtail the illegal use of such sludge in fodder. "These practices that existed in the past will not exist in the future," he said. "Measures have been taken."

Belgium is not alone with such problems. Last month, EU health officials asked French authorities to clarify a German news report alleging French companies have been putting residue from septic tanks and other banned substances into animal feed.

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