19 July 2002

Hormone scare continues to close more EU pig farms

By Philip Clarke

PIG farms in several EU member states have been temporarily shut down, as the scandal involving the contamination of animal feed with a banned hormone – medroxyprogesterone-acetate (MPA) – widens.

In Germany, more than 330 pig farms have been banned from selling any pigs until they have tested negative for the hormone.

About 360 units are similarly affected in Holland, Belgium has 800 pig farms under surveillance, pending the results of sample testing, while France said on Wednesday it, too, had imported tonnes of potentially contaminated feed, pigmeat and live pigs, which it was tracking down and destroying.

The problem arose last month when Belgian reprocessing plant Bioland imported hormone-infected waste sugar water from Irish pharmaceutical company Wyeth Medica.

The Belgian company, which is now bankrupt, converted the product into glucose syrup which was then exported to a number of Dutch feed manufacturers, and then on to farms in Holland, Belgium and Germany.

A statement from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency points to serious errors at the Wyeth Medica plant, which was involved in coating hormone pills for human uses.

"It is clear from preliminary investigations that waste sugar solution containing MPA was wrongly labeled as green list waste and shipped under this classification to Bioland."

The agency has threatened Wyeth Medica with prosecution, once its investigations are complete.

Dutch farm groups are also planning court action against the Irish company. This week around 7000 Dutch pig farmers – half the countrys total – agreed to voluntarily suspend slaughtering until they could prove they had fed non-hormone tainted feed for at least seven days. All exports from the country were also temporarily halted.

Eleven EU member states are believed to be affected, either because they received contaminated feed or imported live pigs or pigmeat from affected farms.

The hormone is known to cause infertility in humans, though the level of contamination found so far in pigs is well below the threshold at which it would be considered a health risk.

Member states meeting in the EUs food chain committee in Brussels this week reiterated the need for joint action, tracing and destroying all contaminated feed, and increasing testing on farms placed under surveillance.

Food safety commissioner David Byrne also indicated that new feed hygiene legislation would be ready early next year which will include a new licensing system for feed manufacturers. &#42