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9 June 1999
New Zealand has closed its border to foodstuffs containing significant amounts of animal products exported from Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
Belgium has banned sales of its butter, and the European Union is considering what other foods should be banned, following the discovery that some Belgian farmers have used animal feed containing the cancer-causing chemical dioxin.
The dioxin is believed to have spread to animal feed through contaminated fat from a Belgian fats and oils processing company.
Ministry of Health spokesman Bob Boyd said the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had today stopped issuing certificates of importation for products containing significant amounts of pork, poultry, dairy, egg and beef from those affected countries.
Dr Boyd, Chief Advisor Safety and Regulation, said these products will be detained until the importer can assure MAF that the goods have not been sourced from contaminated animals.
The Ministry of Health is preparing a draft emergency food standard under Section 11M of the Food Act which will cover foods manufactured and processed in Belgium which contain some animal fats and products but not significant amounts and therefore do not require an import certificate.
"We have no evidence that these products might present a risk but as a precaution the standard will prevent importation, " Dr Boyd said.
The Ministry is also meeting with retailers' representatives to discuss appropriate action on these lower-risk foods already on shelves.
Products affected may include baked goods, pates, cheeses and chocolate.
Dr Boyd said levels of dioxin in foodstuffs were lower in New Zealand foodstuffs than in some European product: "Because we are a less industrialised country, it is less likely we will have contaminated agricultural crops."
Dr Boyd said while health officials were still checking the Customs Service's database for products that may have come from Belgium, initial assessment had ruled out bulk imports of animal products used in the manufacture of other foods.
"So the things that have come here are likely to be small things that are not part of our staple diet."
Dr Boyd said while dioxin was a poisonous substance likely to cause cancer the risk lay in multiple exposure over prolonged periods rather than in a one -off episode eating something which might be slightly contaminated which was not part of our staple diet.
However Dr Boyd said members of the public with food in their pantry labelled Made in Belgium and possibly containing animals products should, as a precaution, not use them until more information was available. The same advice applied to people doing their grocery shopping.
For more information contact:
Chief media advisor
Tel: 496 2202 or 025 512 833
Internet address: www.moh.govt.nz