EU Debates Use of Waste
Products in Animal Feed

Reuters News Service
Story by Eric Onstad


ANALYSIS - Europe again mulls animal feed as waste disposal

AMSTERDAM - Will Europe's food supply ever be safe? In recent years
horrified Europeans have watched news of cancer-causing dioxin, sewage
sludge and ground-up dead animals ending up as ingredients in animal feed.
In the aftermath of each scandal, officials have scrambled to assure
consumers that regulations were being toughened to prevent a repeat. But
the continent this summer is going through a familiar routine of angry
farmers, quarantined farms and halted exports after a banned growth hormone
found its way into the feed troughs of thousands of livestock. Farmers and
feed makers have pointed fingers at EU officials as moving too slowly to
beef up regulations, but they have also raised a more fundamental question.
Can any guarantees be given in an industry that routinely uses bizarre
waste products as foodstuffs for animals?

"It is unacceptable that animal feed is still regarded as a cheap waste
disposal system," said FEFAC, the lobby group that represents Europe's
27 billion euro ($27.21 billion) commercial animal feed industry. EU's
farmer lobby group COPA/COGECA said they had had enough
"garbage from compound feed manufacturers and enough sweet
words" from the European Commission. In the latest crisis, 11 out of
the 15 European Union countries, including half of all Dutch pig farmers,
found their animals were eating feed laced with hormone
medroxyprogesterone-acetate (MPA), which is banned for use in livestock and
believed to cause infertility in humans. Irish officials say they traced
the hormone contamination to waste water from a pharmaceutical plant there.
The company has denied wrongdoing, saying it sent the waste for disposal
and had no idea it would end up in animal feed.

Researchers and industry figures argue that proper use of waste products
such as from yoghurt makers and potato processors fed to animals benefits
the environment through recycling. But to guard against more scandals,
officials must move faster to put in place harmonised EU regulations for
every step along the food chain, they say.

For hundreds of years, farmers have used waste products for animal rations.
Less than one-third, or 125 million tonnes of the 400 million tonnes of food
gobbled up by European livestock each year comes from commercial feed
makers. The rest comes from the farmers themselves, including self-grown
grains and hay, plus cheap waste products purchased from creative suppliers
who dream up new ways to sell by-products instead of paying to have them

"There are hundreds of things people use. A waste product can cost a
lot of money to put it in a landfill, so it's just an economical way of looking
at it," said Willem van Laarhoven, a Dutch agricultural consultant who used
to work for a feed firm. One German broker suggested marketing ground
up chicken feathers as a good source of protein while others use remains
of pig intestines processed by pharmaceutical firms for medicines. If proper
methods are followed, such as heat treatment to kill bio-organisms, even
strange-sounding ingredients can be made safe for animal feed, experts say.
But the wide range of suppliers and ingredients proves a nightmare to regulate.

"On the one hand, using waste is cheaper and better for the environment
since it reduces rubbish, but there is more risk involved," said researcher
Sandra van der Kroon at the Dutch Agricultural Economic Research Institute.
The institute has proposed a "double-check" system, where both suppliers
and farmers are responsible for ensuring that ingredients come from approved

The EU has come under fire for moving too slowly after a major
scandal in 1999, when fat from a Belgian rendering plant was contaminated
with dioxin, probably from motor oil. Europe's feed industry at the time
urged the EU to impose uniform regulations across its 15 members, but the
proposal only made it into a white paper, said FEFAC Secretary General
Alexander Doering. In the wake of the current scandal, however, EU
officials now appear to be moving to implement such proposals. An EU
official told Reuters last week that a major reform of controls of food and
feed was expected to be ready by the end of the year along with a revamp of
the legal framework of the entire feed sector, toughening up registration
of firms.

"We have been calling for it for the past three years without success.
It's a pity to see that it's only a crisis that makes things move," Doering
said. Currently, all commercial feed makers are required to have stringent
certification, but not their suppliers, a move which probably would have
averted the current crisis, he added. If Dutch feed makers and farmers
had demanded their suppliers be certified, they likely would never have
purchased glucose syrup laced with MPA from now bankrupt
Belgian firm Bioland, which was not registered with food safety
authorities. Belgian prosecutors are probing Bioland. But even if safety
regulations are toughened, experts say there will never be any 100 percent
guarantees over food purity. "If someone wants to commit a fraud, it is
very difficult to stop it. It is impossible to test for the hundreds of
chemicals that you would never think would be put in animal feed," said
Dutch Agriculture Ministry spokesman Gerard Westerhof.


Germany, Belgium lift ban on
tainted feed farms

Reuters News Service
Michael Hogan

HAMBURG - Germany and Belgium have ended emergency orders
banning the sale of milk from farms that had received animal feed tainted
with a banned hormone, as the crisis that has hit nearly a dozen European
nations eased. German officials said all milk samples had tested negative
for the hormone, MPA, while Belgian food regulatory body AFSCA
said it had lifted ban on farms selling beef products and milk after tests
gave the all-clear. The end of the bans is a sign of relief for European farmers,
who have been hard hit since the discovery late last month that some animal
feed had been made using ingredients contaminated with medroxyprogesterone-
acetate, or MPA. Farms in most of the 15 member countries of the EU have
been affected and many have been closed pending checks. WLL, the association
representing farmers in Germany's worst-affected state of North Rhine
Westphalia, said it believed about 1,100 of the 1,800 farms which were closed
last week would be free of the ban.

"This is wonderful news," said WLL spokesman Bernhard Schlindwein.
He said thousands of litres of milk had been thrown down the drain by
German farmers last week, although many would have tried to keep milk
in tanks in the hope of a quick release from the ban.

Belgium's AFSCA said the number of farms being inspected for MPA traces has
risen to 950 from 800. MPA is forbidden in the EU and in other countries as
a hormone in livestock feed. But it is a component in some pharmaceuticals,
such as hormone replacement therapies for women in menopause. Officials
stress there is no immediate danger to health unless MPA is consumed over
long periods, but any animals testing positive may not be sold.

In the Netherlands, the world's third-biggest pork exporting
nation, farmers were still struggling to get back to normal last week after
a ban on pig exports and slaughtering was lifted.

The ban was lifted late on Wednesday if farmers met certain conditions,
but a recall of contaminated animal feed is encountering logistics problems.
The Netherlands was the worst hit by the feed problem, with half of its pig
farmers receiving the tainted feed. The exact amount of contaminated feed
is not known, but it is believed to be in the tens of thousands of tonnes,
said Wijnand Wiegeraadt, secretary general of the Dutch feed trade group
Nevedi. "We are having some difficulties because the capacity for recalling
feeds from silos at farms is limited," he said. Only around 25 machines to
remove feed from silos were available and each could only retrieve 70
tonnes per day. A Dutch farm ministry spokeswoman said tests of pigs at
suspected farms were proceeding and no more positive results had been

"You can never be sure until it's all over, but for the most part
the situation appears positive," she said. The source of MPA contamination
has been traced to waste water from an Irish pharmaceutical factory owned
by U.S. drugmaker Wyeth , Irish officials have said. The waste was sent via
a Irish waste disposal firm Cara Environmental Technology Ltd to
now-bankrupt Belgian reprocessing plant Bioland which provided glucose
syrup as raw material to Dutch feed makers. The two Irish firms have denied
wrongdoing. (additional reporting by Eric Onstad in Amsterdam, Gilles
Castonguay in Brussels and Carmel Crimmins in Dublin).

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