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USDA sets 1 ppt dioxin limt for some foods

   This is the front-page headline of today's state paper, the Arkansas 
  Democrat-Gazette, July 15, 1997.   The three most interesting aspects 
  of this article are 1) the U.S. Department of Agriculture has 
  apparently declared the acceptable level of dioxin in food to be 1 
  part per trillion; 2)  the article describes only the problems caused 
  to the food industry with no acknowledgment of the public health 
  threat; and  3) the food industry's response of sending workers home 
  until testing is completed would seem to be a tactic designed to 
  evoke worker and public resistance to this and similar rulings.
   Plunkett, C., Chaney, D.  Dioxin ruling keeps 2,000 workers home.  
  Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 15, 1997
   At least 2,000 employees of poultry-processing plants in Arkansas 
  stayed home Monday, following a directive from the U.S. Department of 
  Agriculture, which has stepped up its scrutiny of dioxin levels in 
  processed meat.  The directive, issued July 8, became effective at 
  midnight Sunday.
   A last-minute meeting Thursday to exempt catfish prevented what 
  experts said could have been the virtual collapse of that industry in 
  Arkansas and Mississippi.
   About 1,300 employees at ConAgra Inc.'s poultry-processing plant in 
  Batesville were forced to stay home Monday.  They will remain off the 
  job until the company can prove through testing that dioxin levels in 
  poultry are lower than 1 part per trillion.
   Dioxin is a waste byproduct of some chemical processes and is a 
  suspected carcinogen.
   As late as July 3, the USDA stated that dioxin levels of 3 to 4 
  parts per trillion were safe for human consumption.  However, on July 
  8 the agency instituted the new 1-part-per-trillion directive.  
  Attempts late Monday to reach officials at the federal agencies 
  involved weren't successful.
   Lynn Phares, spokesman for the company based in Omaha, Neb., said 
  its Batesville plant is the only one the company had to close.
   Tyson Foods Inc. based in Springdale, kept 300 to 400 employees from 
  working Monday at two kill plants in Pine Bluff.  The company's 
  spokesman Archie Shaffer III, said he didn't have "any idea" when 
  those employees would be back at work.
   At Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc.'s Honeysuckle White plant in 
  Ozark, 400 employees were told to stay home Monday and today. .
   The workers are on hold because three federal agencies - the Food 
  and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the 
  USDA - warned any company that had bought feed from Riceland Foods 
  Inc. of Stuttgart and Quincy Soybean Co. of Helena w hin the last few 
  months to prove that its processed poultry contained levels of dioxin 
  lower than 1 part per trillion.
   Riceland and Quincy sell feed to agricultural industries in Arkansas 
  and Mississippi.
   In June the FDA discovered that two Tyson chickens contained dioxin 
  levels of 3 to 4 parts per trillion.  The agency said the levels were 
  safe for humans, but "now that the contaminated feed has been 
  identified, the agencies have initiated action to prevent any further 
  exposure to elevated levels of dioxin in food for human or animal 
  use."  The 1-part-per-trillion dioxin level also applies to eggs.
   Officials eventually traced the dioxin problem to the animals' feed, 
  which contained ball clay from the Kentucky-Tennessee Ball Clay Co. 
  in Crenshaw, Miss.
   The 1 part-per-trillion directive has been an operational nightmare 
  for Hudson Foods Inc., based in Rogers.  Fewer than 20 laboratories 
  in the nation can test for such small levels of dioxin.
   For Tyson, the directive came as a surprise.
   "The highest levels we ever found in our product was 3 to 4 parts 
  per trillion, which the government agencies assured us imposed no 
  immediate health risk," Schaffer said, adding that, because an 
  acceptable level hadn't been identified previously, this month's 
  requirement seemed arbitrary, and therefore maddening.
   Randy Wyatt, vice president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation 
   "The struggle the industry is having is, are [the agencies] using 
  good solid scientific evidence to determine how the levels are 
  arrived at?" Wyatt asked.  "We'd like to know the basis of the 
   Officials at the state Department of Health weren't prepared to 
  comment on the directive Monday.
   Sloan Houston, a spokesman at Riceland, said the mill sold feed 
  primarily to broiler and egg producers in Arkansas and Mississippi.  
  He said the company sold feed to as many as 20 companies, but he 
  declined to name them or comment further. .
   Mike Freeze, vice president and owner of Keo Fish Farms Inc. and a 
  board member of the National Aquaculture Association, said the 
  state's catfish farming industry would have been decimated if dioxin 
  testing was required.  But he said the fish farmers wer given a 
  last-minute reprieve by the FDA.
   Freeze said about 60 percent of the state's 300 catfish farmers had 
  used some of the contaminated feed and FDA officials began visiting 
  the state's fish farms July 3.
   .catfish farmers were initially told they had to stop processing 
  fish as of Sunday until they were able to get their fish tested, 
  Freeze said.
   Because of the lack of testing labs, he expected a 30-day turnaround 
  period for test results .. Also, catfish normally have to be sampled 
  for taste about two weeks before they go into processing, he said.  
  That six weeks with no processing would be enough to push many of the 
  farmers into bankruptcy, he said.
   we were talking an enormous problem, not just a few farms being put 
  at a disadvantage, it was gong to break the catfish farms in Arkansas 
  and Mississippi," Freeze said.
   Several fish farmers retained legal counsel and were prepared to sue 
  the feed companies, he said.
   Aquaculture industry and FDA officials met four hours Thursday . 
  Catfish farmers expressed their concerns to FDA .
  Pat Costner
  P.O. Box 548, or 512 CR 2663
  Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632 USA
  ph:  501-253-8440
  fx:  501-253-5540
  em:  pat.costner@dialb.greenpeace.org