18 June 1999

Belgium facing EUlegal action

EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler has confirmed that legal action will be taken against Belgium over the dioxin food scandal.

The confirmation came as it emerged that Belgium has blocked a request by commission officials to inspect the suspected source of the contamination.

"It is clear that there will be proceedings," Mr Fischler told reporters at the end of a two-day EU farm council meeting in Luxembourg this week.

European veterinary experts must first decide whether to take action over Belgiums late notification that animal feed had been contaminated.

Equally, they could decide to take more drastic action against the countrys failure to adopt the necessary precautions to prevent feed contamination in the first place.

The Belgian government knew of the contamination for four weeks but said nothing, an act which culminated this week in the resignation of the prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene.

The rules on animal feed ingredients are now being reviewed after EU farm ministers agreed to consider calls for a community-wide ban on meat and bonemeal.

Meanwhile, urgent checks in the UK found that no animal feeds contaminated with dioxins have been imported from Belgium this year.

Farm minister Nick Brown said: "I am pleased to report that the only compound animal feed for farm livestock imported in this period was high-fat, specialised piglet feed. The feed does not involve any admixture of blended fats, as implicated in the dioxin problem."

But 250 farmers from the British Pig Industry Support Group believed government had not gone far enough and blockaded Felixstowe port, Suffolk, for two hours to draw attention to broader concerns over food safety.

BPISGs East Anglia branch chairman Ian Campbell claimed that the Belgian government had admitted there were "no controls whatsoever" on the raw materials used in animal feed.

The group added that although feeding meat and bonemeal was banned in the UK, it was still permitted in the rest of Europe. It claimed that there was, therefore, a strong probability that dioxin-contaminated meat products were being fed to animals across Europe.

The BPISG insisted that Mr Brown had to act immediately to seek proof from importers that all meat and meat products had a documented audit trail. Otherwise, the minister should resign, a spokesman said. &#42

Junior farm minister Elliot Morley (right) opened a new £250,000 pig centre at Harper Adams University College last week. The unit will provide the industry with a teaching and research resource. The units design has been influenced by research needs. For example, the sow house has the flexibility to feed diets to individual animals or groups, enabling performance to be compared. Using batch farrowing, the 112-sow unit will produce weaners to 35kg. Pictured with Mr Morley is John Roberts, head of animal production and science at the college.

First carrots of the season. An early site and careful crop management make these the earliest lifted carrots ever, says Andrew Burgess, organics director at Cambs-based grower Russell Burgess. The company expects to lift over 35,000t this year, as well as parsnips, potatoes and onions.

Minister told of Alliances fears

REPRESENTATIVES of the Small and Family Farmers Alliance met farm minister, Nick Brown, this week.

They made clear to him that unless action was taken soon many small-scale producers would go bust.

The representatives, shaken by news of two more farmer suicides, in Wales and the south-west, told Mr Brown of the widespread support for their cause from environmental and wildlife conservation bodies such as Friends of the Earth, The Wildlife Trusts, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Small family farms were wanted by the public, but to survive they needed government to amend its policies. They were not there begging for handouts. But they did need fair play, such as changes to the support system so that it did not massively favour big agri-businesses.

John Cousins, director of agricultural policy for the Wildlife Trusts, told farmers weekly: "We totally support their approach. We believe farm amalgamations are a backward step for the countryside in any part of Britain.

"We want more support money moved to environmental work, such as hedge and wall maintenance, and payments at realistic levels for the work involved so that it makes a real contribution to the familys income." &#42