OVER 160 dairy and livestock farms in Holland have been temporarily shut down, following the discovery of dioxin contamination in some of the feed given to the animals.

The problem first came to light in October, when routine sampling of Dutch milk picked up unacceptably high levels of dioxins.

An investigation by the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority soon traced this back to a dairy farm in Lelystad, which was immediately isolated.

Further investigations found the source of contamination to be potato peelings supplied by a McCain’s potato processing plant.

“On Nov 2, 2004 it was confirmed that the potato industry by-product had been contaminated by marly clay used in the washing and sorting process,” said Dutch agriculture minister Cees Veerman in a letter to the parliament.

This clay had been supplied by a German company.

As well as isolating the original dairy farm, plus one other found to have bought contaminated potato peelings, the food safety authority also suspended all trade in potato by-products by McCain.

But it then emerged that contaminated peel was also sold to various livestock farms. As a consequence some 162 pig, cattle, sheep and goat farms in Holland have also been temporarily closed.

“These farms remain under government supervision until test results have demonstrated that the dioxin levels in the meat do not exceed threshold levels,” said Mr Veerman.

The Dutch authorities insist that there is no danger to the public from consuming milk. Any of the contaminated milk would have been diluted by clean supplies at the processor.

It also claims that the potato products from McCain intended for human consumption, while having slightly raised background levels of dioxin, do not pose a health risk.

The dioxin problem is believed to have spread to Belgium and Germany, with more farms closed in those two countries.

The EU commission‘s food chain committee will meet next week (w/c Nov 8) to review progress in tracking and containing the problem.