Human And Animal Sewage
Fed To Some French Pigs
And Poultry
By Adam Sage
Concern was mounting in rural France yesterday after the European Commission denounced a "major health risk" from French pigs and poultry fed on sewage.
In a letter to the French Government, Brussels highlighted an "alarming" report that four major animal feed producers had used slime from water treatment plants and septic tanks.
A juice made from animal corpses has also been included in some feed, according to the report by the French National Directorate of Consumer Inquiries. Published by the French satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, which was leaked a copy in June, the report featured in a German television documentary last week.
The result was panic in German shops, with the supermarket chain Edeka withdrawing French poultry from all 11,000 stores.
Guy Legras, the EU's Director-General for Agriculture, said in a letter to the National Directorate of Consumer Inquiries that the use of sewage in animal feed had been banned by Brussels in 1991.
"I have recently seen information from France concerning grave anomalies. I ask you to provide me as soon as possible with detailed information on the measures taken by the French authorities to put an end to these practices," M Legras said.
At the weekend a spokesperson for the directorate said that the four producers implicated in the affair had burnt the sewage after its report earlier this year.
Yesterday the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche said 30,000 tonnes of polluted animal feed, some containing sewage, were stocked in a warehouse in Plouissy, Brittany. About 200 tonnes are burnt every week. Local residents, led by the Mayor, Marguérite Trévidy, want the warehouse shut down, and all its animal feed destroyed.
Publicity surrounding the scandal that has followed last week's ARD channel programme, Monitor, is a serious blow to a French agro-industry already in difficulty.
French farms, along with counterparts in Germany and The Netherlands, were the principal purchasers of Belgian animal feed found earlier this year to contain dangerous amounts of the carcinogenic chemical, dioxin.
According to the European Commission, the French Government was told of the dioxin affair two months before it became public, but took no action to halt it. French pig farmers are likely to be hit hardest by the sewage scandal.
Over-production has led to a sharp fall - to about Fr5 (50p) a kilo - in the price of French pork, prompting demonstrations and a near-riot in southern Brittany this year.
News that animals have been fed on a product containing a residue from septic tanks will depress still further both sales and the pork price. The result is likely to be more violent protests this autumn.
Food safety has become a topic of intense debate in France, where arguments over genetically modified crops have been overshadowed by concern over existing foodstuffs. The Belgian dioxin revelations, for example, were front-page news in the French press for weeks this summer.
In an editorial yesterday, Le Monde said: "This new affair provokes a strong impression of nausea and a violent sentiment of revolt. There is an imperative necessity for safeguards."
Dr Franz Daschner, a German scientist, commenting on the septic tanks' reports, said that the residues could contain dangerous bacteria, antibiotics and chemicals such as dioxin.
French police and poultry farmers will be watching an-xiously this week for signs that the affair may spread from Germany to other European countries.
And despite reassurances from the French authorities that the illegal practices have been stopped, the emotive nature of the revelations highlighted by Monitor augurs badly for the French farming industry.
Yesterday German meat consumers were already being advised to buy domestic meat. Referring to the allegations that French companies had used sewage in manufacturing animal feed, Wilhelm Niemeyer, the farm union chief in the key agricultural state of Lower Saxony, said that they were a likely pointer to the kind of poor safety checks found in Belgium's recent dioxin-in-food scare.
"German farmers and their sales agents over the last few years have established a system guaranteeing quality and safety-of-origin which is leading in Europe," Herr Niemeyer said. Checks on meals and feeds in Germany were stricter than in other EU countries, he added.
Germany, which imports approximately 100,000 tonnes of pork and poultry from France each year, refuses to lift a ban on British beef in defiance of an EU decision to do so which came into effect on August 1.
This latest affair will fuel calls in France for the creation of an independent European food safety commission charged with regulating agriculture across the Continent.
Pro-Europeans in Paris say the European Commission does not have the credibility to restore public confidence while national food safety agencies are unable to tackle a question that cross national boundaries.