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Press Release 99/36


Rome, 10 June --The widening Belgian cancer scare from dioxin contaminated animal products is another clear warning that animal feeds can have a direct impact on the quality and safety of foods, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statement released today. The latest food contamination incident follows the outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease in the United Kingdom, which health authorities suspect may be linked to a variant of Creutzfeldt Jakob disease in humans.

FAO is urging its members -- 175 countries and the European Community -- to immediately take further steps to assure good quality and safe animal feed as well as foods for human consumption. FAO has produced a draft Code of Practice for Good Animal Feeding containing a series of steps that can help to prevent feed contamination problems. The draft FAO Code is being considered for adoption by the joint FAO/World Health Organization Codex Alimentarius Commission, the body that sets international food standards. The draft Code covers good animal feeding practices and promotes the use of good practices in the procurement, handling, manufacturing, storage and distribution of commercially produced feeds for food producing animals. It provides guidance on general management of production processes, handling of pre-production ingredients and post-production storage and distribution practices. The draft Code was the result of a March 1997 Expert Consultation called by FAO to discuss animal feed problems.

FAO warns that in addition to BSE and dioxins, many other substances can contaminate animal feed. They include mycotoxins, agricultural and industrial chemicals, microbial pathogens, veterinary drug residues and heavy metals.

On several occasions the FAO/WHO Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants (CCFAC) has discussed the establishment of a maximum limit for dioxins in foods. At its last session in March 1999, the CCFAC decided that more information was needed before it could recommend a limit for low levels of dioxin contamination. It asked Codex member countries to collect information on dioxin contamination foods of animal origin, fish, and fish oil.

Dioxins tend to be absorbed in animal and human fatty tissue and have been shown to cause cancer in several animal species. Dioxins are not produced commercially, but are formed as by-products in other industrial chemical production processes. They can contaminate farm land and water, usually at low levels, and they are extremely resistant to chemical and biological cleanup processes. While it is not possible to eliminate dioxin contamination of foods entirely, FAO has urged that even very low levels of dioxin be carefully controlled.


For further information please contact: Media Office (39) 06 5705-3276/E-mail:

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